From the moment you enter the small, hot, smoky studio space around the back of the Nottingham New Theatre, the tone of this intense and confusing play is set. The actors, impatiently tapping their feet, seem to have been waiting for the audience to arrive. And waiting is, in a way, what this entire play is about.
It was difficult to know what to expect from a play set in the ‘waiting-room’ of limbo. Customs made it a claustrophobic, tense experience; the audience were left, like the characters, both desperately curious and full of dread as to what lay beyond the ‘final threshold’.
The acting from three of the main characters – Richie (Tom Willis), Elodie (Nicola Fox) and Paula (Alice Ratcliffe)- was excellent, all gave a pretty good attempt at pulling off various accents. However there was a large amount of over-acting, ruining what could have been emotional moments. This, in part, was due to the odd choice of blocking; a character spilling out their darkest secrets whilst shouting directly at the audience tends to break the suspension of disbelief. Instead the best – and the eeriest – acting moments came from the wonderfully understated Angel of Judgement, whose resemblance to The Woman in Black (whether intentional or not) only increased her creepiness.
The play in general tended towards the over-dramatic – don’t sit in the front row unless you are willing to be splashed in the face with fake blood – although there were a few twists and shocks that took me completely by surprise and worked extremely well. The performance also managed to pull off several emotional moments very tenderly; Paula’s backstory in particular was acted with compassion and sensitivity.
The lighting and sound of the piece was used to great effect. The loud sirens and red flashing lights both made our hearts jump and sink – we knew that what was coming would not be good. It created a connection between audience and characters, blurring the line that separated us; although we would not be hurt, we felt a thrill of fear for those who might be.
The sparse scenery let the audience use their imagination as to what was really there; the view of the afterlife is a personal one, a point which the show makes clear. The only props – the character’s ‘baggage’, brought with them when they died – created a brilliant bit of world-building; certain objects were glimpsed in bags and suitcases, creating backstories which were never fully explained. It left the audience wanting to know more.
The topic of religion and the afterlife is a sensitive and personal one, one that cannot be answered by anyone other than yourself. This is the main message that the play seemed to be trying to get across; it is our personal choices which are important. Instead of answering the questions the performance brought up, it left us with more. The ending came as a shock, tearing apart a likeable character and leaving the audience questioning their own judgement. If you like a play with a satisfying ending, with all plot-ends neatly tied, this is not the play for you. Instead, it felt like the beginning of a new story; a story that will be running through my head for months to come.
Customs by Logan Wamsley is running at the Nottingham New Theatre until Tuesday 1st April. For more information visit the NNT website.