Review: boom at Theatre 503

Silence lingers for a few seconds too long as the lights came up on the UK premiere of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s dubiously honoured ‘most produced play 2009-10’ in his native USA.

A sole hero breaks the awkwardness. ‘Well THAT was different…’

‘Different’ doesn’t quite cover boom at Theatre503 in Battersea which has a 4:3 fish to human ratio, too many tampons, and the vaguest of intentions. As a surreal comedy, it hits the mark. As a witty commentary on life, death, fish and humanity, Nachtrieb falls short. 

A pithy 90 minutes without interval and only three cast members, boom zips by easily. To cut a short story shorter, Jules (Will Merrick) loves fish, and his fishy friends have accurately predicted a world-ending comet due any minute. Cue a Craiglist ad (retro!) for ‘intensely significant coupling and sex to alter the course of humanity’ in Jules’ underground lab. Our horny heroine Jo (Nicole Sawyerr) arrives, a comedy of errors ensues, months pass, and death comes for us all, etc etc. 

BUT WAIT! Jules is gay, Jo has ‘impending doom narcolepsy’ (this gets tedious so fast), and the whole set-up is controlled by woman in the corner called Barbara (Mandi Symonds), many millions of years in the future. Keeping up? Sadly, our omniscient narrator is burdened with some unfunny monologues beneath Symonds’ capabilities, and a script which teases and dances around the truth until the audience doesn’t care anymore. 

Spoiler alert: it turns out Barbara is a disgruntled museum employee on her final shift, and this is a play within a play (so meta! SO unnecessary!). Oh and it’s the fish all along. Duh. Joke’s on you for watching the actors, you should have been watching the FISH! Um? 

Marine preoccupations aside, ex-biologist Nachtrieb misses the potential for real depth in his rich source material with consistently distracting humour, which is not altogether a bad thing. So what if I didn’t emerge with a fresh perspective on humanity? I lolled, and you will too. 

It’s a genuinely funny play, almost always hitting the mark thanks to a convincing performance by Merrick and some quality physical comedy à la Michaela Coel in Chewing Gum from Sawyerr. Barbara doesn’t quite work for me, however, leading the play to a faltering ending as Jules and Jo obliterate themselves. 60 million years ago. The fish! It’s hard to care.

As a comedy, boom is great, and the laughs were consistent. As an apocalypse drama, it lacks scope, and as a creation myth, credibility. Any attempts to drag it into being a smart satire on faith, God, and humanity are unfair to a play that is best served at face value, not to be overthought.

Will Merrick rightly calls boom a great ‘date play’. Sit close together on a cosy bench, laugh awkwardly at two actors making out in front of you, and then go to the pub downstairs to make sense of it over some drinks. Just don’t try and explain it to anyone afterwards…

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