When I was invited to watch The Nobodies at this year’s Vault Festival, I got excited – the invitation came from the creators of Testament who had reached out for a review before. Closer to the date the review invitation was reversed though; please come and see the play, I was still asked, but with gigs at Edinburgh Fringe festival in August 2020 already scheduled, Chalk Line Theatre wanted to develop and polish The Nobodies after the Vaults run further and only then publish full reviews. Fair enough. Until then, tweets and Insta posts only please – but then Corona arrived, the Vault Festival had to end early and this year will pass without the Ed Fringe at all. As John Lennon sang: Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.
I saw The Nobodies in yet another location within The Vaults under Waterloo Station, in The Crypt. Welcomed with a big smile, a handshake and a small gift bag only to be opened after the show, this was a much jollier start than Testament, a still shockingly relevant play with the mission to raise awareness of men struggling with depression, trauma and higher than average suicides rates. In the next hour we will sing union anthems, applaud an anarchistic collective of youngsters fed up with politicians’ passiveness and cheer for the National Health Service.
For three friends the closure of the local hospital has life-changing consequences – healthcare assistant Rhea (Lucy Simpson) has to find new work, Aaron’s mother will have to move to a cancer unit miles away (I remember actor David Angland as Jesus in Testament) and for Curtis (Joseph Reeds) this confirms the never-ending greed of profit-hungry capitalists absorbing every sense of community anywhere. But after witnessing a fatal incident at the train station in which a local politician is involved, the trio grabs a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to turn things in their town around: The time has come for a fresh wave of pragmatism, finally enabling more social justice and respect for the NHS, its needs and workers. Sacrifices are expected but when an anonymous call including a little blackmail brings things unexpectedly fast forward, morals and conscience are affected – as The Nobodies the three now speed forward constantly…
But power is an addictive poison when rushed and so the anarchic collective fails as most socialists do, caught between their own ideals, weaknesses and dreams. And could anyone seriously blame Rhea alone, who has no other way to raise the money for her nurse training? The question is justified: Does a society which excludes simple humanistic dreams like hers deserve any better than being exposed and attacked?
The Nobodies was written and staged before people went out of their houses on Thursday nights to light fireworks for health workers (while internationally health care workers uttered they’d rather have a pay rise and sufficient protection at work) – and we need a social shift even more urgently now. No one can be without fail all the time. People trying to move things will annoy, when both right and when wrong, but at least those early ideals should be reconsidered. Our social systems need more public funding, more and better equipment, when just additional volunteers risking further infections cannot be the answer. Or donations. Or applause. My advice is to stage The Nobodies as soon as possible and not to wait until the Edinburgh Fringe in August 2021; with its Zumba tunes, satirical bite and lunchtime-friendly length, The Nobodies could easily become an online hit. I have passed on my Nobodies manifesto already to where I think it is in good hands. No pressure. Until then, let’s all ask ourselves: What can I do to make a difference? And then act accordingly.
**** out of 5 stars
Written by Amy Guyler for Chalk Line Theatre, co-directed by Sam Edmunds and Vikesh Godhwani
Performed at the Vault Festival in February 2020