A narrative is any account that presents connected events, usually with a certain structure. When we read/hear/tell stories there’s almost always a beginning, a climax and an ending. Even if these are not clear, our brain will try to find them in order to make sense of the story.
Narrative opens with a video sequence showing a cave painting. It depicts a dying warrior in a fight with a bison. This could mean anything. It doesn’t tell us who the man is, why he’s fighting the bison, what has happened before or how the scene is going to end. Still our brains try to make sense of it – we interpret the picture in order to make sense of the story in our heads.
Director/writer Anthony Neilson deliberately experiments with narratives and the ways of telling a story in his new play for the Royal Court. It messes with its audience’s head with a myriad of short scenes that are only related in little details and with no obvious order. It’s all messy and against the proper style of story-telling. We are introduced to characters who appear and re-appear whenever they chose, and as random video clips and sound effects interrupt the action your brain is furiously trying to put everything into order, without success.
Who sent Oliver Rix the picture of an anus? Why is Zawe Ashton having panic attacks? And why are Christine Entwisle and Imogen Doel wearing massive horns? It’s all a part of Neilson’s plan to question the way we perceive stories and how bending the structure can make you focus on just the words – for even though it’s a mad, mad play there are heartfelt moments of truth, friendship, love and jealousy.
As a play it’s a bit too messy for me – I find comfort in the old-fashioned beginning-climax-end-structure – but Neilson’s incredible cast ensures you to have a great night with lots of laughs, even though you’ve lost track of who’s who and what is happening. The whole cast is fantastic, but Fresh Meat’s Zawe Ashton particularly shines with honesty, emotional truth and a comic talent that deserves more praise than this review. She is a versatile actress who no doubt will get very far.
Garance Marneur’s set design is cold and modern but fits the purpose of the play very well, and the pieces of glass on the floor that serve puddles of fresh water are beautiful to look at. Nick Powell’s sound effects are hilarious and Susan Kulkarni’s costume idea with the cast all wearing a white t-shirt with their childhood photo on it gets the brain working again as we keep asking ourselves why we are allowed a glimpse of the actors’ real lives – and of course we don’t get an answer.
In this way Neilson’s play works brilliantly. We might not get an answer to our questions and most of the action doesn’t make sense, but the play is sure to haunt you long after the show has finished. It’s like solving a very hard puzzle – how annoying is it when you can’t make the pieces fit? So even if it doesn’t make sense, go see Narrative at the Royal Court. It’s a great exercise for your brain.
Narrative is at the Royal Court until 4 May. For for information and tickets visit the Royal Court’s website.