Saturday, 9 June 2012

Review: Nicki Hobday Conquers Space

Nicki Hobday conquers space is a thoroughly playful performance. The audience enters to buoyant music, everyone is buzzing, ready for the first show of that day. Nicki has already saved the day for us filling in at the last moment for Formally Silent, for whom a broken arm has prevented them making it to the Flare Weekender. From the very start the piece plays upon our preconceptions of theatre, what we look for in a theatrical experience, and what we want from our performers. A spotlight is lit, but…
Noone enters the light. Not yet. All we have is a girl standing to the side of the stage, in the shadows, in a tshirt and jeans, talking into a microphone. She talks about what could happen. About who Nicki might be. She second guesses what we want – costumes, a big set, something visual to keep us engaged. Slowly, but surely she takes the spotlight, still insistent that she is not Nicki Hobday ‘The Girl From The Title’. The Girl Who Is Not Nicki Hobday is very explicit about what Nicki Hobday wants from her audience. A relationship is being laid out for us, she knows what we want and she wants us to find her endearing, to feel sorry for her status as a solo performer.
But this isn’t just another black box studio show with a microphone and a lot of self-referential meta-theatrical chatter. Something is always slightly off. When she engages with the audience she gets their names wrong, she answers for them so we have parallel universes set up for us. One world in which Mike says yes, and another in which Dave says no. We are invited to put our hands up OR down to express an opinion. And so the space begins to be conquered. The Girl Who Is Not Nicki Hobday knows what we want but it will happen on her terms or not at all.
 Eventually she begins to give us what we want, a striking visual image is set up for us, with coats and hats on microphone stands becoming the performers (and staying very still until their cue. Not because they’re inanimate objects. They’re just professionals. Obviously.)
 However, always, there is the pervading sense that when she gives us what we want it is beneficial to her. If she gives us what we want then we will find her endearing, we will give her what she wants.
The wordiness from the beginning is cleverly balanced throughout the show as throwaway comments begin to come true, a guitar on a stand appears, there is a big costume change, everything is explained for us, and somehow, throughout the show we become aware that The Girl Who Is Not Nicki Hobday is actually, slowly becoming Nicki Hobday herself. But we aren’t left long to experience her before the space is invaded by a stranger with a gun. Nicki is dead. But of course she isn’t dead, this is theatre and she still has to achieve the title. And so space is created. And they say she conquers it. And there are planets. And everything is wonderful.
She gives us what we want and we love it. 

Cross posted on the Flare Weekender Blog

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