Review: Supernova, VAULT Festival

Stiff & Kitsch’s Supernova is an achingly truthful look at how tricky relationships can be at VAULT Festival

“Do you have a favourite planet?”

Brian* and Tess meet at a fancy dress party. He tries to impress her with Doctor Who knowledge (he can name the actors both chronologically and alphabetically); she calls him out for missing John Hurt’s War Doctor; and pretty soon she’s cancelled her Uber and they do it, twice. A shared love of sci-fi and space turns this meet-cute into a sweet relationship but like so many sci-fi shows, their time is limited as the challenges of life disrupt the gravitational field of this couple.

That’ll probably be the last space-based reference (that isn’t a pun, at least) as science was never my forte. But Rhiannon Neads’ Supernova folds in a light-touch level of stellar knowledge to draw the parallels between the competing forces at the heart of a star and the dancing, duelling natures of two distinct personalities trying to make it work together. It’s a really rather lovely play, capturing that bittersweet tone that is the hallmark of many a great British rom-com (even if Brian and Tess say they hate them).

Neads structures the play through a series of short scenes, delightful snapshots of the burgeoning connection here. Chats about what they’d do if an asteroid was about to hit the planet, opinions on statement walls, toasted teacakes, some amazing fancy dress work, there’s a touch of genuine magic generated by Neads and Sam Swann through these vignettes. And also, as the mood darkens, as the shadow of depression falls over their household, a brutal honesty that rings awfully true.

Jessica Dromgoole’s production is most pleasingly realised. A circular playing space is surrounded with all the props needed to tell the story, facilitating the quick changes between scenes but also maintaining the emotional intensity that builds throughout. There’s some hard-hitting stuff in here, particularly around what we do to those we love, or don’t love in some cases, the knock-on effects of depression on those close to the sufferer almost as difficult to watch as the self-loathing.

The line about stars being “beautiful on the outside but inside, it’s a fucking mess” still rings through my head this morning, just as much as Tess’ inability to take a compliment, Neads and Swann both do so well at showing how a couple can be so compatible in some ways, whilst almost diametrically opposed in others. Though at the risk of sounding trite, I don’t believe there’s any problem that Swann shaking his ass in your face wouldn’t solve. An achingly truthful look at how tricky relationships can be.

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Supernova is booking at VAULT Festival until 9th March

*I can’t lie. I didn’t take a note of this character’s name and am struggling to track it down on t’interwebs, so I’ve named him Brian…whoops

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