Nothing (fortyfivedownstairs) - 80 minutes without interval
Pierre Anthon is a massive thorn in the backside of his classmates in year 9.
Just one utterance changed their perspective of the world and now they are out to prove him wrong … and they will stop at nothing to do so.
Photos by Cameron Grant
Anthon, who we never meet, says “nothing matters” and even as a youngster he said he has known that for some time.
The concept is you are here today and gone tomorrow, so whatever you do or say matters nought.
The world has been the world for billions of years, so each one of us is but a blip in time.
Anthon’s curve ball catches out all his classmates, who have literally just started the school year. It is devastating.
They band together because they recognise it is important for each of them to amount to something.
They want to prove to Anthon that some things do matter.
They determine the best way to achieve that is to each give up something that is meaningful to them and thereby create a “pile of meaning”.
Favourite books, a fishing rod, shoes, even a pet hamster are thrown into the mix.
But what starts out in relatively mild form becomes increasingly dangerous.
The “sacrifices” become morbid … and they still might not be enough to satisfy Athon, who has clambered up a plum tree and simply refuses to come down.
A cohort even threw stones at him, but that wasn’t enough.
Now, eight years later, these same five classmates have reassembled to reflect on what happened at the time.
So, the story unfolds in two timeframes, most of it in flashback.
The quintet is dressed in school uniform – beige shorts, white shirts, white socks with a black band and white runners. Only blazers separate the then from the now.
Nothing, at fortyfivedownstairs, is the Australian premiere of the internationally acclaimed Danish novel by Janne Teller, adapted by Fleur Murphy.
At its core is existential angst.
There’s a deliberate vagueness at the start as we, the audience, try to figure out just what is going on when these five young adults get together. And then there is the slow development to what becomes the truly bizarre.
I must say I started to tire of the descriptions of the “items” gifted by the children, which is the lifeblood of the story.
I found the build-up excruciating. Don’t get me wrong. There are moments of high tension, but not enough to sustain my interest.
I wanted more. I craved for more.
I found myself clock watching, shifting uncomfortably in my seat.
And it is not a long play – about 80 minutes – but as far as I am concerned it could readily have been cut back … and I accept that would have meant clipping the author’s words.
All I can add is that while I haven’t read the book, I merely arrived at that judgment based upon what I saw … in a theatrical space.
The acting was decent. The five actors – Laurence Young, Eddie Pattison, Rebecca Makar, Jessica Martin and Connor James – delivered their lines with aplomb and they interacted well with one another, so I am not calling that into question. Movement supervisor Cassandra Gray has done a good job with them.
I was also impressed by the set design. A large sinewy tree dominates, with stumps either side of the stage. Karine Larche was responsible for both set and costumes.
To summarise, conceptually the play was sound, but in reality I struggled with parts of it. Nothing, directed by Alfonso Pineda, is playing at fortyfivedownstairs until 13th March, 2022.