Review: St Nicholas (The Other Room, Cardiff)

There is something to be said for some good old fashioned storytelling in theatre. The kind that sits an audience and does simply that; tells a story. While I love theatre that plays with form, stylistic theatre and sometimes even big flashy theatre, I think we sometimes forget that what we’re after is a story. And Conor McPherson’s St Nicholas gives us exactly that, in a deceptively simple manner.

On the surface the pitch about theatre critics and vampires might have seemed a bit out there from McPherson in 2007, when he was riding the wave of success from The Weir. However it’s a great thing that someone decided there was probably something in that combination. What is in it is a great tale of questioning life choices, and veering towards a darker side of things.

We meet The Man, a theatre critic we are quickly told. A large, slightly bombastic man, who is clearly enjoying the spoils his job has offered-wine, fine dining, money and power. This is a man who has a lot of power over at least his small corner of the world. Highly paid among his peers in journalism, feared by those he writes about for the power he holds in making or breaking a show. He’s a man who seems to have a lot, and yet, as the cliche goes, he feels he has nothing. More specifically he feels his writing is empty, devoid of real thoughts and he longs not so secretly to be one of those who creates something rather than observing others creations. Likewise in his personal life, there seems to be much missing, or at least passing him by. This is a man clearly embodying mid life crisis through the lens of theatre criticism.

And then come the vampires. In an ill-advised trip to London to chase unrequited love with an actress whose play he has destroyed, the man instead meets William, a vampire. The beauty of this piece is, being a one man show, we only meet William, or the actress through the eyes of our narrator. We have no other notion of who they are, what they look like. And so, as Christian Patterson weaves his tale for us as the man, we all have our own vision of the beautiful actress, the dangerous vampire. The audience’s imagination is fired up as the tale unfolds, and how we see these two mysterious characters fuels what we take away from the tale.

Director Titas Halder knows the strength of the piece, and his actor, allowing the words and performance to take the lead. His direction seems to take its lead from these two elements, steering but not over powering the story itself. One particularly effective touch, is the the use of lighting. In a set created out of low hanging vintage looking lightbulb, and one bare bulb on stage, the lights respond to elements of the story, and sometimes Patterson’s touch. The pulse or fade of the subtle lighting lifts the story, and the power over light that the words seem to have enforce the supernatural edge to the narrative. Understated and powerful, it’s an effective device  drawing the audience yet further in.

St Nicholas is an utterly engaging piece of theatre. The audience were pulled in by Patterson’s performance from the opening lines. Part thriller, part comedy and a piece that relies on the audience’s ability to imagine, and later to reflect, it takes theatre back to basics; the stories we tell, and what they mean to us.

On at The Other Room until Friday 11th March. As part of the ongoing Insomnia season, that continues with Matthew Bulgo’s Constellation Street next…

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