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Review: Nu Disco at La Mama HQ

Review by Lucy Lucas 

Written and performed by Ellen Marning, Nu Disco takes a dive into Melbourne’s club scene, exploring the characters, conflicts and crises that emerge over a night on the dancefloor.  

We follow our protagonist, Trinity, as she navigates a litany of sights and smells specific to a night out including the universally rancid experience of club toilets and a particularly brilliant sequence in which she fantasises the utopic future of two patrons as they surreptitiously leave together. 

The initial foyer monologue by a dictatorial German bouncer was positively delicious. It delivered the perfect amount of stereotype and humour whilst genuinely building my anticipation of what lay ahead. It reminded us that whilst we laugh at these hyper-serious doof-rats there is a bit of us that always covets just a little of that hyper-cool intensity. Unfortunately, the high expectations I had post foyer monologue were not fully realized once inside the space – somewhat mirroring my real-life clubbing experiences, where the hype almost always outweighed the reality. 

From the get-go it is clear Trinity is escaping something, that there are going to be revelations as the night progresses. However, for these twists and turns to land we needed to really see the woman at the centre of the story and, overall, the character of Trinity seemed a little underbaked. She is apparently semi-autobiographical, and I think this may be the root of some of my difficulty. There is always a danger in writing too generically in the pursuit of relatability. Ironically, specificity fosters a connection with audiences that broad brushstrokes cannot. If we hear about, for example, two sisters re-connecting post argument through a mutual love of peanut-butter dipped pretzels and the Devil Wears Prada we are more likely to see our own familial relationships, filling in the blanks with our own specific references. If we are not privy to the specifics the characters remain surface level, writers call this the Specificity Paradox. This is where I felt somewhat unable to connect with Trinity. She was the everywoman, every late twenties-early thirties disconnected and rightly disaffected millennial but I couldn’t relate to her as an individual. She was too general, too representative rather than unique – and that is coming from someone who shares many of her major identifiers. Being closest to Marning herself and the natural proxy for the audience I think allowed the creators to assume that we would empathize automatically, a dangerous trap when painting a human story. We know about her gross shits, her spontaneous drug taking, her quirky horniness but we don’t know about what makes her unique and individual. This also points to a lack of awareness of Trinity/Marning’s place in the wider world – many audiences member will not share her story or identify with her experiences innately. Specificity allows our shared humanity to overcome identity-based differences. Generalisation asks us to project our complex multitudes onto a symbol, something that in this case had a deeply distancing effect. 

You absolutely cannot flaw the performance, however. Marning’s commitment is absolute, you get the sense she is all in one hundred percent of the time.  I found the most enjoyment in her side characters – the Berliner from earlier and the chaotic public servant who were both fully realised and deeply specific. When Marning leans into the magic of theatre – transformation of character, design elements creating new spaces, fantastical realms – the show is truly powerful. 

However much of the content feels interstitial, never scratching beneath the surface. The vulnerability feels one dimensional and performed rather than raw and in-your-face. A pivotal scene takes place in a smokers area, and I am excited that we are digging down deeper, thinking we are going to the heart of what Trinity is running away from; climate anxiety and the pervasive shared dread that seems to define generation y/z. However, we get but a glimpse of this experience of hopelessness and then we’re back on the dance floor. Then suddenly we are facing down sexual assault and revenge fantasies that everyone who’s ever been groped can relate to and quickly back to the dancefloor. There is a running theme of powerlessness through these vignettes, but it is glancing, the play never fully grappling with its’ relationship with these wider social issues. 

In the end Nu Disco is not about climate change, sexual harassment or even electronic music. It is about Trinity and her story – one that we never full get to uncover. These brushes at wider social issues could work if the heart of the play – Trinity’s character- was more solidly and clearly built. 

The design work is gorgeous. Cole McKenna’s lighting is a particular highlight – specific, intricate, and highly evocative. Robert Downie’s sound is employed to equally powerful effect, their confident choices create beautifully realised literal and emotional spaces and support the storytelling with understated care.  

Nu Disco is high-energy, earnest and intelligent. As it stands the play entertains, charms and delights but Marning is a talented creator and with a little added detail, this work could truly rip your heart out. 

Image Supplied


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