Sadly though, the outer shell of honesty and charm that she presents is pitifully fragile and lurking beneath like a cancer are dark, uncontrollable feelings of depression, confusion and fear of failure. Her attempts to build an emotional levee against the raging tide of feelings that threaten to sweep her away is destined to fail with tragic consequences. Amy Nostbakkan’s portrayal of Nathalie and the subsequent episodes that shape her destiny is nothing short of amazing with the dialogue of The Big Smoke delivered almost entirely in song ‘a capella’ style throughout in a wonderfully expressive manner. As she recounts to us the chain of events that lead to her demise you can almost believe that the story is being told by Nathalie herself. Nostbakken slips effortlessly between playing the parts not only of Nathalie but also of the host of demanding relatives and morally bankrupt characters that pull her this way and that.
Using a vividly colourful palate of vocal styles she paints a series of portraits in our minds of people unaware and unwilling to concern themselves that they are unpicking the very threads that are holding her together. Nathalie is screaming in silence and inevitably the downward spiral of emotions leads her to mental collapse and eventually to the suicide that she had a fantasised of. Although the music brings an element of cabaret to the performance Nostbakken also uses classical methods of physical theatre, movement and gesture in the ‘Lecoq’ style associated with the brilliant young production company behind tonight’s show – Ad Infinitum.
The Big Smoke has been heavily inspired by the lives and deaths of three hugely influential writers – Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf and Anne Sexton all of whose writing was enormously personal and delivered largely in what has been described as ‘confessional style’. Each of these writers suffered from bouts of depression and periods of mental illness and subsequently took their own lives but not before leaving a combined body of work still influencing writers today. Ultimately a thought provoking performance and a production that gets under the skin and stays with you long after the stage is once again swathed in darkness.Review/photos by Shay Rowan