“The cult is performative, almost a play within a play”Alfred Leigh

The Road to Nowhere follows brothers Liam and Michael joining a cult and getting wrapped up in a world of mysterious and uncanny figures, where they start to question their beliefs and also their scepticisms.

The play opens with Michael and Liam in the pub: Daniel Chappell plays a jittery Michael against Martin Fearon’s confident Liam, setting up a comic dynamic of believer versus sceptic. This dynamic felt somewhat underdeveloped – it could have been explored more deeply to make their brotherly relationship and motivations for joining the cult more convincing. At the end of the scene the Talking Heads song ‘The Road to Nowhere’ comes in, winking at the play’s title. This acts as a comic juxtaposition, but also serves as theme tune between the two episodes of the play.

The move from the pub to the cult is stark. The cult is performative, almost a play within a play. The single spotlight played up this stagey quality but also took its cue from the dialogue to turn interrogatory at times. The pillars of the cult, Pidra, Jaldi, Hando and Salza, appear like holograms from a strange retrofuture. Their all-white sheer costumes give their bodies a ghostly air; they look like futuristic clones, but their costumes also glance back to the past with retro turtlenecks and flares. They create the atmosphere of a cult which is ritualistic but also futuristically commercial.

The uncanniness of these figures was also down to the acting: Amy Martin, Olivia Miller, Tom Sparks and Maddie Paige play the characters as entranced and entrancing. They speak in perfectly-timed unison, and perform dance like choreography, characterising the cult as mysterious yet unsettling. Throughout the performance they seem distant, fixing their gazes on something beyond the stage. They seem to be always watching but never seeing. Even when they speak to each other their eyes stay on something distant; they seem disconcertingly disconnected from their world and each other in spite of their synchronisation. The audience start to worry that Liam and Michael are at risk of becoming equally disconnected, or only superficially connected.

Oliver Canessa’s performance as Haplard, the leader of the cult, was compellingly charismatic. He played Haplard as charming but unnerving, and this was particularly convincing when he turned to speak to the audience as if they too were part of the cult. These moments were also a clever use to the intimate space of the Larkum studio, playing off the audience’s physical closeness to the stage.

Yet the most intriguing figure in the cult was Klem, played by Jasmin Thien, who kept us guessing the whole way through, as to whether or not she was blind and just how involved with the cult she was. Her swift turns between intensely devotional speech and flippantly casual remarks were brilliantly performed and funny. She saves the underwhelming ending with her final comic ‘oh fuck’.

The Road to Nowhere shows us a darkly seductive world full of intriguing characters, and when Liam and Michael get mixed up in it the audience start to wonder if it is that different from our own ‘normal’ world. It’s an exciting piece of student writing which doesn’t quite realise its potential.

The Road to Nowhere is on until 14 February at the Larkum Studio and Fitzpatrick Hall

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