Arts Reviews

‘Familiar Strangers’ @ NNT Autumn Online Season

Rachel Coussins

The Modern day love story gone wrong.

With director and writer Maddie Craig making her debut into the Nottingham New Theatre, Familiar Strangers is a fantastic piece of online theatre about the darker side of online dating. It looks into the life of English student Laura, played by Ace Edwards, as she attempts to navigate the scary world of online dating. With moments that are funny, touching and moments that genuinely make your skin crawl, this modern day love story gone wrong is a perfect addition to the New Theatre’s online season.

The character of Laura is brilliantly portrayed by Edwards, as she appears on the surface to be a relatable singleton looking to find love in the modern world. I really enjoyed the way the character is set up to be someone an audience member could relate to, as this makes the twist that comes towards the end all the more gut wrenching as we begin to question who is in the wrong. From my interview with Craig, I know Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror was a big influence on this play, and it definitely had hints of the episode Shut up and Dance throughout it, where in the end I was left wondering if I had actually been supporting and relating to an antagonist this whole time.

The striking resemblance between the archetypal character and so many boys I have come across in my time at university really made me chuckle, and is testament to Craig’s writing skills and Landon’s talent

The influence of Black Mirror was also apparent to me in the graphics used at the beginning and end of the play, designed by Skylar Turnbull-Hurd. It set up a tone of eeriness from the onset, always forcing the idea into the back of a watcher’s mind of ‘when are things going to start going wrong’, creating an imminent sense of danger throughout the play.

We first see Laura interact with Match One, played by Nicholas Landon. All the matches had a task on their hands to bring characters without names, and who never actually appear on screen, to life, and all of them absolutely nailed this. Landon plays an overconfident match who really believes he is God’s gift to women. The striking resemblance between the archetypal character and so many boys I have come across in my time at university really made me chuckle, and is testament to Craig’s writing skills and Landon’s talent in getting the intonation and general cockiness of the character spot on.

We’re then introduced to Match Two, played by James Fellas-Laurie, a pathetically awkward character who attempts to win Laura over with his terrible pickup lines such as, “are you Covid-19? Because you’re taking my breath away.” Fellas-Laurie brilliantly captures the ineptitude of his character, in that you can’t help but feel sorry for poor Match Two as he clearly has absolutely no game but is trying his best. However, we all know we would react in the exact same way Laura does to him, by promptly shutting him down.

This is when we meet Match Three, played by Max Nichols, and seemingly the only normal guy Laura has matched with yet. The two characters appear to really hit it off, with Nichols wonderfully portraying an all-round classic ‘nice guy’. However this is where things start to go desperately wrong, as a shocking twist drew me in just as I was starting to forget that ‘something’s going to go wrong’ feeling.

The character of Jasper is brilliantly brought to life by Jack Titley. Knowing Jack in real life it was genuinely terrifying to see him play quite such a maniacal and almost unhinged character. This is where I started to get the panic of not knowing who was in the wrong, as I almost felt myself being manipulated by his character. Titley really magnificently illustrated the nuance to this character, however I won’t say anymore for fear of giving anything away.

The only criticism I can think of for this play is that I perhaps would’ve liked to see the characters of the matches a little more fleshed out, just to really allow for the twist at the end to pack a punch more than it already does. I think within the constraints of online theatre however, this play generally managed a lot of issues that could’ve otherwise arisen.

A shocking twist drew me in just as I was starting to forget that ‘something’s going to go wrong’ feeling

I was overall very impressed with the talents of the crew responsible for bringing this play to life, having already mentioned Craig’s efforts, I also think it’s important to recognize both producer, Ella Seber-Rajan, and assistant director, Phoebe Marshall. Having worked on online shows in the New Theatre before I can appreciate how much goes on behind the scenes to make these plays as fantastic as they are, and the level of production of this play is a testament to them and the entire creative team, namely video editer Shayla Dimaano, creative assistant Pip Horn, sound designer Jesse Rough, captioner Zoe Smith, and the assistant video editor and graphic designer Skylar Turnbull Hurd, all of whom have done an absolutely bang up job in making this a piece of theatre not to be missed!

Familiar Strangers by Maddie Craig will be available to steam on the NNT YouTube channel from Wednesday 2nd December at 19:30

Rachel Coussins

Featured image courtesy of Nottingham New Theatre. No changes made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @familiarstrangers.nnt via No changes made to these images.

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