It is 27 years since Frank Skinner won the Perrier Award in Edinburgh, setting him on the path to stardom. Now, he’s a beginner all over again as he stages his first play at the Fringe.
Skinner is one of four playwrights to receive the significant backing of the BBC and comedy producers Avalon as part of Debut, an initiative to bring first-time playwrights and directors to the Fringe. The actress Katherine Parkinson, director Beryl Richards and journalist Bim Adewunmi were also commissioned, though the latter’s play was pulled from the Fringe schedule, citing “unanticipated production changes,” late last week.
It’s a slightly odd project. The BBC and Avalon could have thrown their weight behind any four of the 1000 theatre shows at the Edinburgh Fringe this year without commissioning already established talents. One imagines if Skinner had wanted to bring a play to the Fringe, he could have done it quite easily without anyone’s help but perhaps he needed the nudge to experiment.
The result is Nina’s Got News, a featherweight three-hander about friendship and trust. Nina (Jessica Clark) has called her persistent ex Chris and her ballsy best friend Vanessa (Breffni Holahan) to her house to confess a secret. It begins like a conventional rom-com as Nina and Chris (nicely lugubrious Rob Auton) trade barbs over their defunct relationship. Their “penetration days” are behind them but Nina hopes they can still be friends. Why Chris would want to still be friends with someone who is so unrelentingly, mechanically mean to him isn’t ever made clear.
Skinner, unsurprisingly, is good at snappy one-liners, jokes and callbacks–there’s a fine line about After Eights–he is less adept at writing lines that real people who are not stand-ups might actually say.
In Polina Kalinina’s production, there’s a lack of chemistry so that lines that presumably fizzed on the page, plummet on the stage. For the rest of the time, they stand around saying things like, “I hope we will always be able to joke with each other.” While Nina’s news, when it emerges, is appealingly original, the intriguingly metaphysical premise floats away to nothingness.
The idea of giving a proven talent the opportunity to try their hand at something else is not a bad one but Nina’s Got News doesn’t feel like a play that needed to be written. What it does feel like is a massive waste of an opportunity.
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This article first appeared in Inews on August 5, 2018, and has been reposted with permission.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.