After the phenomenal success of Lovesong (MT17), which sold out its entire run before the first performance had even started, expectations were high for the next dramatic venture from student production company Nitrous Cow. It is my pleasure, as an audience member, to say that these expectations were more than exceeded.
The quirky production choice, an absurdist comedy penned by Tom Basden, inspired by a short story from Fyodor Dostoevsky, was wonderfully original, and perfectly walked the line between eccentric and esoteric. Such a bold departure from the nostalgic Lovesong is clearly a conscious foray into an alternative genre of theatre, and one that serves to highlight the versatility and multi-talented skill-set of everyone at Nitrous Cow.
Some of the stylistic flair that defined Lovesong can be witnessed here too, especially the effective use of physical theatre. The direction is inspired, and the humour of the script is emphasised by the director’s careful choreography of particularly comic moments. The staging is diverse and engaging, and the partial breaking down of the fourth wall, which sees audience members, as the play begins, wearing fox ears and other similar props to represent the zoo at which most of the play is set, means that we are drawn in from the get-go.
The premise of the play is that eccentric out-of-work actor Ivan is accidentally swallowed by a crocodile on a trip to the zoo, and by a freak miracle, survives. After he becomes a national sensation for his operatic performances from inside the reptile, Ivan becomes the centre of a flurry of press attention – at which point things take an (even worse) downward spiral. Thanks to the talents of all at Nitrous Cow, the comic potential of this absurd premise is played out to the full.
The cast are all superb, with Dominic Weatherby nailing the arrogance and eccentrism of protagonist Ivan. Luke Wintour particularly stands out as long-suffering friend (and seemingly the only sane character) Zack – his performance is perfectly understated and calm, and resists the temptation to succumb to the exuberance of all the other characters. The undeniable scene-stealer, however, has to be Julia Pilkington. Her performance as dead-pan crocodile owner Mr Popov is one of the highlights of the show, and she even manages to execute a perfect Russian accent as Tsar Alexander II. There are impressive performances all round, with Jon Berry also making for a particularly funny supporting actor.
Overall, this is another stunning success for Nitrous Cow, who have proven their strength and versatility as a production company once again. Funny, engaging, and original, this play is sure to sell out every night – book now while you still can, and keep an eye out for whatever Nitrous Cow turn their hand to next.