Review by Daz Gale
There’s a certain buzz in the air as people hang flags up around their house and celebrate the most exciting event in May – the Eurovision Song Contest. Wait, did you think I meant something else? For many of us, it’s a time to gather our loved ones for a Eurovision party where we celebrate the very best and the worst in all 48,000 European countries… and Australia. These parties have a way of being full of surprises and can be eventful (I could share a few stories) so it’s no surprise they have laid the foundations for this brand new play Nul Points. But would it come top of the leader board or be left to repeat the shameful fate of everyone’s favourite crybabies Jemini?
Nul Points is set in European superman Josh’s flat over the course of ten years from 2012 – 2022. With the uncanny ability to recite Eurovision song entries, points and where they ranked on the scoreboard as well as shoehorn a reference in to any conversation (“Eurovision tourettes” as it is referred to), we see him and his guests over the course of five parties. Over the course of the decade life changes for them substantially but the one refreshing constant is the comfort and madness of Eurovision which provides the backdrop for the rest of the action.
The writing from Martin Blackburn is regularly witty with some fantastic one-liners littered throughout. While predominantly comic, the action takes a dramatic shift in tone in the second act as the realisation of how the friendship group has changed permeates the story. While the writing can never be classed as understated, its flamboyant and over the top nature feels in-keeping with the contest that forms the heart of the story. Some of the characters run the risk of being one-dimensional but have their own character journeys and growth that makes them more well-rounded. It is the realism and relatability of the friendship group that made Nul Points such a strong watch.
Surprisingly, Nul Points isn’t actually about Eurovision, While the action takes place across multiple Eurovision parties in the same location, the action is only on in the background with the attendees only feigning a casual interest every now and then. As someone who gives their best death stare if anyone dares to talk at their Eurovision party, this felt a bit at odds with what the story was about, but ultimately you get the sense this could have been any annual tradition – even *shudder* sports. It does show how Eurovision can be the happy place for someone like Josh and his only little bit of heaven – something a lot of us will be able to relate to. There are also some great musical theatre references for lovers of theatre to spot, with “Less gays have seen Wicked than your arse” up there with the single greatest lines I have heard in the theatre.
All of the characters brilliantly named after UK Eurovision entries which was an inspired touch on Martin Blackburns part. With characters Josh, Kat (short for Katrina – the moment I twigged what the connection was. Never let it be said I’m not the sharpest tool in the box), Ryder (otherwise known as Andy – 2 contestants for the price of one), Gina and the rather ridiculously named Daz (who is named Daz, honestly?). The characters come and go as one year turns into another, creating a varied dynamic as relationships are made, tested and broken as the years go by.
Kane Verrall is fabulously over the top as Josh who brings his friends together to create new traditions and relationships. Instantly recognisable as a character many of us have would have in our life (unless we happen to be that character ourselves), his enthusiasm and ability to recite a random Eurovision fact at any given moment makes him instantly loveable and a character we root for throughout.
From his unexpected appearance at the first party, Sean Huddlestan gives a confident and changeable performance as Ryder/Andy while Marcus J Foreman gets some of the comic highlights, demonstrating flawless timing and comedic ability as Daz. Charlotte East is a dominant force in the group as Kat and her portrayal of this character is fittingly the same in what is a standout performance among the group. Sadly, Adele Andersons Gina didn’t quite land on the night. As Josh’s mother, she had moments of brilliance throughout but for one reason or another stumbled throughout most of her lines, never quite impacting on what should have been the emotional centrepiece of the evening.
William Spencers direction makes a static nature of Josh’s flat feel more vibrant with the intricate details changing the flat slightly each year allowing for some variance. It should also never be understated how difficult it is to get a comic spit right on stage so full marks for the direction and Marcus J Foreman for that perfectly executed visual gag. David Shields set design gives a detailed representation of a Eurovision superfans flat, with the odd Easter egg or two to spot, while Alistair Lindsays complements it beautifully.
Nul Points may prove divisive in that it will appeal differently to different people. If you love your niche Eurovision trivia and can pick out the hidden references throughout, you will have a whale of a time. I sense that people not as into the competition may feel too much goes over their head in this show. There is the argument that shows should always be accessible, regardless of your prior knowledge of the topic – but despite the fact the actual song contest doesn’t play as big a part in Nul Points as expected, some may feel lost.
For me, I saw moments of myself and my life in this friendship group. The parties I used to have, the friends I knew. The way life had changed. This show had an impact on me I wasn’t expecting due to my own comparisons and history. The darker nature of the shows second act playing on my mind as I made my way home from the theatre. To that respect, I can understand why some people may take something different out of this show than I did. However, I personally haven’t been able to connect with a piece on stage as intimately as I did this.
Deeper than just the story of a Eurovision party, Nul Points explores the complexities of a friendship group and how life and growth can change the dynamic within it. The authenticity in which this was played out throughout the decade made it all the more captivating to watch. While I can’t say it is a perfect show and is not without its flaws, the sharp writing and loveable characters made this a winner for me. A surprising way of demonstrating the fragility of life, Nul Points is full of depth and despair in what can be a powerful but ultimately beautiful story. It may not quite be Douze points but it would definitely finish on the left side of the board.
Nul Points plays at Union Theatre until 20th May, Tickets from uniontheatre.biz
Photos by East Photography
It is also worth stating how vital spaces like Union Theatre are. They provide a space for a variety of shows to play within a stones throw of some of Londons most iconic theatres. They are now at risk of losing this beautiful home so please donate at uniontheatre.biz if you’re able and keep this wonderful theatre open for generations to come.