Review: DDF – Beautiful Nothing by Em Oliver

By Maddie Clark

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Hilarious, honest and humorous, Emily Oliver’s incredible one-woman play was a Durham Student Theatre triumph. A Beautiful Nothing masterfully explores every aspect of coming of age as a female in a disconnected society that commodifies and objectifies all that you can call feminine. We follow the story of Corinne, an underage film star, flung into the public eye, in her hotel room. She welcomes us into her “Casa Corinne”; an impressive fortified pillow fort, barricaded by the soft glow of fairy lights that shelter her from the cruel reality of life outside its walls. We learn of her leaked, faked nudes, found questionably by her uncle. Her pushing, high-achieving mother still does not have her new phone number. The skin-crawlingly sexist producers and their “sex-sells” mentality, play cupid and match Corinne with her nine-year senior co-star, and all his 32 white teeth. Every decision is made for Corinne; she has become a ghost looking down at her own life; “not allowed to occupy space” as herself, only as a character that fits whatever narrative society deems fit.

Oliver managed to balance honesty and fragile vulnerability with British warded and armoured unassailability, to create Corrine who is not only loveable but entirely relatable

Oliver’s ability to captivate the audience for a whole 45 minutes, doesn’t come as a surprise. Their use of comedy was the perfect “slap and tickle” tool. Laughing at the horrendous situations Corinne has been put in; we are left with wrenching guilt in our stomachs at the sad reality that our laughter is accepting societies norms. Oliver’s ‘Fleabag-esque’ script is a breath of fresh air for the Durham Theatre scene. Phoebe Waller-Bridge better watch out, there is a new one-women show in town. Em’s ability to write a character that is filled with so many beautiful contradictions makes the play nothing short of professional. Oliver managed to balance honesty and fragile vulnerability with British warded and armoured unassailability, to create a Corinne who is not only loveable but entirely relatable.

To do justice to such a powerful, complex and volatile character is a difficult task but one that not only achieved but absolutely smashed. A hidden jewel in DST, I am honoured that I got the opportunity to watch her work her craft. Commanding the stage, I could not take my eyes off her. Her versatility shone through with her ability to switch from a hilarious, caricature multi-rolling to moments of child-like naïvety as she escaped into her fairytale “princess” world. One word. Wow. However, her ability to connect with the audience was really what made her performance a stand-out. She made you feel like you were the only person in the room, that she was letting you into her chaotic, little world. The moment that solidified her talent was in the agonising breakdown, where she opens up about the death threats she has received and starts to rip apart the teddy bear her co-star gave her. Her heightened emotions, panicked movements and frantic tearing fully embodied Corinne’s emotional turmoil. At times, pauses may have been a bit long, perhaps in an attempt to try and recall lines, which is no easy fare with a one-woman play. But there is little I can say to criticise Amar’s performance. I cannot wait to see her in future DST shows.

Amar’s heightened emotions, panicked movements and frantic tearing fully embodied Corrine’s emotional turmoil

Every aspect of this production was flawless. ’s creative choices as a director were excellent. From the intricate details of mini alcohol bottles to the small toy in the corner of the pillow fort. The set perfectly depicted how Corinne’s desperate attempts to reconnect with her childhood were stifled by the external world of fame forcing her to behave beyond her years. Barnett evidently worked extremely well with Bhav to explore the space; juxtaposing between moments of storytelling when Bhav would move around energetically, almost like she still is “in character”, to glimpses of Corinne’s inner child, as she retreated into her fort and escaped with stories of a princess in her tower. The tech design by Charlie and Em effectively added to these moments. The use of colour to shift the audience’s mood was highly effective, especially the subtle pink wash that created a dream-like atmosphere. This was then juxtaposed with the harsh green spiders at the back of the stage as we were faced with Corinne’s re-enactment of her greedy, slimy film producers. Unfortunately, at times Bhav’s face was shadowed, however, being acutely aware, Amar almost always moved into the light.

This show will take you on an emotional rollercoaster; you will sing along to Eminem, breathe out “all the shit” to a ‘quirky’ alternative meditation, laugh at the irony of the misogynistic, fanatic world of social media and fame, and cry for the heart-aching trauma of losing someone you love. It is not one to miss.

Image Credit: Em Oliver, Suffragette Theatre Company

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