An almighty collision of people and the corresponding smash of glass. Fragmentary thoughts, personalities, accents and clothes all gathered up and strung loosely together resembling the faint outline of a narrative. It’s hard walking away from a play like Nothing Compares to You because one way or another you only succeed in turning 360 degrees. Bryony Lavery’s creation is the sort which won’t let you float idly by; the ideas it exposes soar above your head and you feel an overwhelming desire to peg them down for closer scrutiny. It’s a fine mess and quite rightly so for a play which is centred around a car crash. Entering the Department of Theatre Film and Television (TFTV) this evening is to enter an accident and emergency scene: tyres scattered, a car door innocuously propped up against the ticket desk, and the usual detritus.
From a reviewer’s point of view Nothing Compares is a somewhat difficult play to pin down, there’s so much to explain or qualify that it feels not so much that one is reviewing as much as trying to supply some shabby exegesis. However, my approach has always aimed to give an impression of an evening’s theatre. To my mind Nothing Compares is a sort of cosmic jumble sale outside the pearly gates; hopes and fears are the goods being bartered, people don’t know whether their coming or going – it’s strangely remarkable. The relatable characters provided an anchor during a production where the audience are taken to arctic plains, pacific waters and Amazonian rainforests. I can honestly say that the whole cast contributed to a memorable evening but my bonnet must be doffed in the direction of Rosie O’Sullivan for her wonderfully sincere portrayal of Miriam. A typically innocent, if eccentric, old lady, Miriam’s constant jibes about the woman who lives ‘three doors down’ were the source of great comedy – at one point she seizes a broom in fear of trespassers and proceeds to advance off stage, wielding her domestic pike with a boldness that elicited ripples of laughter.
At this point of the review I realise that I’m stalling, delaying the arrival of the main attraction. They are both the unsung heroes and the most memorable aspect of the production they are, without further ado, the Fylgias. Yes, as far as the English language is concerned, it was a revelation to me as well. Then again ‘Fylgia’ would be because it’s origins, as the programme kindly points out, belong to Norse folklore. Flygias are generally understood to be part of your soul, passed on to your next of kin upon death. It sounds a tad morbid but they, the Fylgia, are more complex than that – as are most things in the play. The two Fylgia are first presented to us near the beginning of the play and my oh my do they know how to make an impression. With orange headlights for eyes they glow out of utter darkness, transfixing the gaze. They are something of a silent omnipresence that represent both guardians and the benevolent spirits which call us to our passing out of this world. It’s worth noting that their omnipresence is quite taxing for the two puppeteers which have to animate the Fylgia: I’m told that they’re quite heavy puppets – made out of scrap metal. Aesthetically, the puppets are masterpieces (Jason Ryall’s masterpieces to be specific) they combine a cute dog-eared quality with the metal faces and those great, prescient orange eyes. Whilst the actors provide a very audible sort of humour, the Fylgias, with their little gestures, present a comedy of silence – great work from Nicole Rushworth and Andrea Barok whose arms must surely be aching. The presence of the Flygias in the play adds another dimension: in one sense their connection with a spiritual world reiterates the overwhelming feeling of isolation surrounding the characters, yet in another sense their roles as guardians provide the very antidote to this loneliness.
Despite all my talk of pieces and fragments, be under no illusion: Nothing Compares to You isn’t a jigsaw. Broken glass can never ultimately be reconfigured through the use of an adhesive – it requires a much more wholesale remoulding by fire. In this respect there are no easy answers offered by the play. Although the Fylgias are on the whole a comforting presence, they don’t eradicate the anxiety which underscores the irrevocable turn to the question of ‘what happens after’ – indeed their unceasing silence is somewhat indicative of this. It’s fitting that, when I caught her afterwards, “Magnificent Chaos” , was the epithet Holly Morgan sent me away with to muse upon. However, it’s time to put aside the “chaos” and the lofty concepts which have preoccupied for most of this review because such thoughts represent only one aspect of this production. The more important and overriding impression of the evening’s theatre is the glowing performance of what was no doubt a troublesome play to apprehend. Where the performance is concerned, of the two words I’m left pondering, I am certain that ‘magnificent’ is the one that fits the bill.