A-Bomb on Broadway, 1121 Collective, Nexus Art Cafe, Manchester, 2nd-7th February 2015

A-Bomb on Broadway is a performance-art piece carefully crafted and brought to life by the 1121 Collective – a new theatre company based in Manchester. With A-Bomb, this new amateur group have created a professionally staged and passionate piece of dynamic theatre and new writing, showcasing the creative potential of all those involved in its production.

The four performers in particular cannot be faulted, bringing raw energy and talent to Jack Busby’s high-octane script. The piece spans a decade in which four characters dramatize and narrate their experiences of living in a post-apocalyptic world under unrelenting attack, and demonstrates an effective contrast between the life-or-death scenarios that the characters face, as they hide underground while the world burns, and glimpses into the characters’ personal lives and personalities, with relationship difficulties providing a thematic link between the four and leaving the smell of love and death in the air.

Despite the abstract nature of the piece, the topical and cultural references suggest a not-too-distant future and we are given clear indications as to the characters’ ages and social positions, successfully drawing the audience into this hostile world and providing a degree of social commentary. However, though the piece clearly aims at conveying an urgent political and environmental message, the somewhat familiar scenario could have done with a greater degree of originality through the script in order to be more thought provoking, with an overuse of certain buzzwords and somewhat clichéd references being the script’s main downfall. I believe the piece could have benefitted from more specificity and perhaps dialogue between the characters, which might have provided greater resonance and lasting impact.

However, each of the four actors’ talents are given full expression through this piece, both through emotive individual monologues in which the stream-of-consciousness style is well-handled, as well as through skilful onstage group interaction and choreography. There is great physical and mental cohesion between the four, despite being unconnected in the story-world, which is used to great effect; all maintain perfect synchronisation in their actions and are careful to stay in character while out of the limelight. In addition, despite living through the same central experience of surviving nuclear attack and a period of revolution, and of being a similar age and demographic, each character remained distinct and added a refreshing change of pace as the show progressed. The actors’ confidence and sincerity was also immediately engaging, and though the piece as a whole may have lacked dramatic focus, the claustrophobic and panic-stricken atmosphere was inherently engaging. One criticism of the actors would be that, though set on Broadway, none of the actors attempted an American accent.

The set design was highly effective, with simple props used to maximum effect, and the soundtrack and lighting effects added to the excitement of the script and performances, testament to director Anthony Steel’s talents. However, I think an opportunity was missed with the costumes which could have been more expressive and meaningful, as each wore the same clownish shirt-and-tie outfit, inhibiting suspension of disbelief where I believe the script would have benefitted from a greater degree of realism and attention to detail; though the army-style boots indicated the real world referred to, I believe more could have been done in this department to bring the life to the performers that they brought to the script.

The show runs for an hour, which is the perfect runtime considering the energy and focus the actors must maintain throughout. The venue – Nexus Art Café – provided the perfect space for an independent and youth-driven piece of theatre, and the closeness of the audience to the actors provided a degree of intimacy that you would not get at a more conventional theatre house. It is well worth keeping up with the events and exhibitions held at Nexus throughout the year, where aspiring artists of all disciplines are given the opportunity to present their work to the public.

This production is the second piece by the 1121 Collective after the Freudian musical Dave!, which ran for six nights at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I look forward to seeing how this group of young performers continue to develop, and to following the director and writer, who are bringing new talent and ideas to the Manchester stage.

Emma Rhys

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