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‘Rachel dreams of being a star and running away from everyday life to join the circus. But life can be a high wire and sometimes you can be your own worst critic.’
The showing of The Life and Loves of a Nobody took place in the Nuffield theatre, brought together by the theatre company Third Angel. The black-box theatre space used traverse staging, where the audience sits on either side of the stage, allowing them to see each other’s reactions during the play. From the onset the play sets out to be unique in that as the story develops, the audience’s reaction may have an effect on what takes place on stage.
With a minimal set, Life and Loves relies heavily on its two actors: Rachael Walton and Nick Chambers, who tell us the story of the fictitious Rachael. She is an ordinary girl (a “nobody” as the title of the piece would suggest), who we never get to meet. We are kept on the edge of our seats by the implication that she will appear at the end of the play – the only contestant in a surreal gameshow. This is made more surreal by the implication that the girl’s ordinary life is of great significance. The gameshow hosts point out that they have been searching for someone like her for a long time, and by revealing snippets of her life, which are re-enacted by our two actors, the play benefits from a varied structure.
The actors switch from performing as gameshow presenters, Rachael, and other characters of significance in her life. The fluidity with which this is pursued makes for a fascinating and strangely believable act – the story of an ordinary girl story is told in ways which are far from ordinary. Another element that keeps us in suspense during the first half is the idea that after we meet Rachael, the audience members will take part in deciding what will happen to her. “Remember, her life is in your hands!” we are reminded in a cheerful yet sinister fashion. Should Rachael be granted fame through death, or be allowed to live in anonymity – the audience can decide. While some scenes are rooted in the mundane every day, the story of Rachael is acted through comical (there’s a particularly memorable scene where Rachael throws burger bun into the audience…) and not so comical hardships of her life, occasionally peppered with small glimpses of beauty.
The staging brings through these aspects. Boxes are used as chairs and as a mode to shine light onto the actors. The wires which are suspended above the stage from one end to the other act as a multipurpose washing-line: strings of paper butterflies are dragged along them, long sheets of paper are hung to them to create a house space which actors cut out shapes in, and the coat worn by the male actor is hung up with strings to allow him to “escape” and leave the coat hanging in the air. It’s visually stunning – the delicate use of imagery makes it an accomplished physical theatre production in its own right.
“We wanted to experiment with form and visual ideas,” Rachael Walton said. “We wanted to create an energy in the room that would allow anything to happen. We wanted to explore the relationship we have with you, the audience. I think and I hope, we succeeded.”
In a fame obsessed world, where girls aspire to be reality show stars with no underlining talent, Rachael wanted her name in the stars. The gameshow format of the performance plays with our conscience; the audience are responsible for fuelling a world where they get to decide the fate and fame of others. As Rachael is very relatable – we all seek to achieve social acceptance and respect – the audience is left pondering the issues around celebrity culture. The ending raises questions which corroborate this controversial theme, explored astutely throughout a performance from a contemporary and ingenious theatre company.