A messy council flat. That is the only description needed for the couple Jade (Charlotte Jane Higgins) and Liam (Arthur McBain). It is their sanctuary, their nest. The specific atmosphere of the Vaults reinforces the already established feeling of loneliness, imprisonment and being forgotten triggered by the design of Holly Pigott, the lighting by Zoe Spurr and sound by Jac Cooper. The couple aims to forget too. Their motives and reasons are revealed in a time-maze of flashbacks and jumps to re-create, anticipate and understand their world.

Nest is the world premiere of the new play from the award-winning Australian playwright Katy Warner. It is directed by Yasmeen Arden and produced by Robyn Bennett for the Vault Festival. The company Small Truth Theatre is a collaboration of artists aiming to give voice to people on the margin of society. In nest, Warner provides an unsettling portrait of a couple fighting to survive daily life and who have already turned their back against a society they do not fit in. Their despair of loneliness binds them together in an unhealthy, co-dependent bond.

Jade and Liam’s story is fragmented and the linearity of time does not apply. The audience is confronted with bits and pieces to reconstruct a picture of their lives: Liam does not find a job; Jade never leaves the flat; they both meet by accident; Liam moves in. Their struggles are projected onto each other, something that binds, but also distances them. Warner creates a brutally awkward representation of their lives; however, it only convinces through its fragmented time lapses.

Unfortunately, a deeper investigation into the co-dependent relationship and social situation of both is missing and thus, the story sometimes stays in the sphere of stereotyped characterisation. Some actions appear rather acted than reacted and therefore, seem unmotivated and even lifeless. On the other hand, the delayed reaction towards each other emphases their ‘distorted’, desperately traumatised and drugged, state of mind. Higgins and McBain’s energy is striking and guides the audience throughout the play. In this way, they create moments of true and genuine immersion and intimacy. Nevertheless, they rest on stage instructions and structured routine, which, if done on purpose, is brilliantly executed. On this note, a more challenging and subversive approach on their portrayal can even reinforce the feeling of awkwardness and unsettling displacement of their world.

As Jade and Liam only exist through their communication and connection with each other, they never explain their situation in a monologue. This lack of reflection is a bravura of Warner’s writing to revive the characters only through their co-dependence. However, the potential of the play seems to have been restricted in this staged production and invites further exploration of the use of language and space. The framing of repetition of conversations, single words, singing or sexually motivated physicality traps the character in their flat, but also in their minds. The use of this tool is highly convincing, even though it is awkwardly disturbing.

The end of the play would have been more satisfying if it had finished with their first encounter. Instead the staged production again slides into a stereotyped and cliché-based reproduction.

Nest is a fragmented and uneasy portray of two people connected through their loneliness and displacement from the world. It convinces through the challenging task to re-construct their relationship from only presented shatters of their life. Even though the potential of the play and of the characters is restricted and sometimes dwells in stereotyped representation, the energy of the actors and their ability to switch easily between contrasting scenes is powerful. Nest creates a restless evening, which does not leave you after you leave the underground.

Nest is playing in The Vaults until 4 March 2018

Photo: Alex Harvey-Brown