Review: Uz and Them at Nottingham New Theatre

3.5 STARS

Uz and Them is a challenging and innovative piece of theatre. It is bold, unapologetic, and has moments of real beauty and depth. A surrealist courtroom drama in which the audience is on trial for some indefinable “crime,” the prosecution and defence engage in verbal sparring with each other, the judge, the witnesses, and the court stenographer in a dizzying battle of wits.

The performers acted the reality of the courtroom convincingly, assuming the language and courtroom jargon effortlessly. Whilst all of the performances were strong, Chris Trueman stood out as sympathetic, verbose, and effortlessly engaging in his portrayal as Gumble. Beth Wilson as the multi-rolling witnesses was also strong and had excellent comedic timing, and Angharad Davies was charming and dynamic as the court’s clerk and stenographer. Although in some cases the use of accents and quick fire “objections” did mean that some of the dialogue was lost, all of the performers acted with high energy and conviction, performing the complex language with the ease of Shakespearian actors.

For every moment that the dialogue was beautiful and poetic – Truman’s monologue near the end was particularly resonant – there were moments where the dialogue was inaccessible and confusing. Indeed, it was hard to get invested as an audience member when there were no emotional stakes – no real relationships between the characters, and no threat of our fate as an audience/ jury/ defendant, as we didn’t really know what our “crime” was. One of my favourite scenes was a bit of wordplay between Davies and the Judge (Ian Sheard), as it hinted at a real affection between the two characters. Uz and Them is undoubtedly poetic and clever, but at times this does come at the expense of the audience’s understanding.

As you might expect from a mock courtroom drama, the set and staging is kept simple, with the audience positioned as the jury watching the action unfold. Painted banners flank the stage, and the judge’s raised bench present a simple yet effective stage picture. The actors are kept on a simple plane, relying on their verbal acrobatics and poetic language to keep the audience engaged. Whilst at time the intense verbosity of the piece and the limited staging did slow down the action a bit, the actors were nevertheless engaging and entertaining throughout.

Uz and Them is an intensely clever and confidently realised piece of theatre, with powerful performances and moments of real weight. With some work to make the piece a little more accessible and sharper, Uz and Them has the potential to be a truly evocative piece of theatre.

Image source: http://newtheatre.org.uk/whats-on/