It is 9pm in the heart of Camden. Two people are rolling around on the floor, wailing and sloppily jamming bananas into their mouths as emotional music plays overhead. This is by no means the weirdest night out I have had in Camden, but I do ask myself several times during Nothing Special whether any of the other audience members are seeing what I am or if I have slipped into a fever dream.
The show, as part of the Handle With Care series, is a satirical take on the popular Ted Talk format. We have all been invited to this self-help seminar hosted by the A.G.I (Academy for Gifted Individuals) in order to unlock our potential for excellence. The show makes a salient criticism of vapid internet culture, self marketing, unrealistic external markers of success that are morally bankrupt, and parents living vicariously through their children. But that point is very deeply concealed beneath a fragmented, bizarre show whose brevity may be its saving grace.
Tom Halls plays Othella, the grandiose matriarch and dean of the academy. She swans about in a silk scarf and garish pink eye shadow, with a single stilettoed foot. Her daughter Chlorine is played by Simone French, a young woman who has been groomed for excellence her entire life but always seems to fall short of her mother’s rigorous expectations.
Though there are few comedic moments that successfully land, Halls provides the majority of the laughs. Under different direction and a show with a far more cohesive structure, he could achieve far more success as a comedian. Unfortunately the absurdist, disjointed plot is not redeemed by the performers’ energetic delivery and has all the surreal chaos of two intoxicated friends pitching a show to their bemused housemates.
The audience consisted of six people who, for their part were as enthusiastic and willing to participate, as the setup would allow. But nothing could stave off the awkward laughter as the plot strayed into uncomfortable territory. It is difficult to determine towards the end if we are laughing to dispel our own feelings of embarrassment, or at the show itself.
With a great deal of restructuring, tighter transitions and a more seamless incorporation of the projections, Nothing Special might be an artful comment on the pressures and power dynamics of millennials in an unforgiving digital age. But in this instance I fear that it is aptly named. For now it remains an obscure, temple-rubbing medley of disarray.
Nothing Special played at Camden People’s Theatre until 26 October. For more information, visit the Camden People’s Theatre website.