Nominative determinism is a theory that someone’s name will influence or even dictate their life. Followers of said theory might have noted that Awkward!, a new piece of writing from young theatre company Peppered Wit Productions, was doomed to uncooperativity from the start. Oddly and unfortunately in this instance the theory rang true; this was an uncomfortable show that never really sat together.
Awkward! tells the story of a couple enlisting the help of some friends and relatives to move into their new house. The first half that saw boxes removed from the van and characters being introduced consisted largely of crass phallus gags with the subtlety of an atom bomb and about the same effectiveness in lowering the tone. This was not improved by literal phallus gags tumbling from a box for no apparent reason other than allowing two actors to engage in a vicious faux-Lightsaber fight with them. Even as the scene progressed - the van was unloaded and we kept learning more about the characters - this lewd approach was laid on with a trowel so heavily that it merited an opaque fourth-wall breaking mention to the script’s bawdiness from one of the actors. The performances nonetheless are strong, although in their monologues the actors tend toward ‘reading’ instead of a more natural expression.
The play takes a sudden dark shift almost exactly halfway in, and with it the script tightens as we discover (without giving anything away) a dark secret between two characters’ relationship... and then two more. And then the rest of them. All this is punctuated by question after expositional question being heaped on by the characters, until we reach a point when it feels as if we are being led up the proverbial garden path by this script. The denouement resembles a particularly macabre soap opera episode as conflict and a lack of resolution abounds - even a violent strobe light fight scene that one could never imagine fitting in the first half took place. The actors creditably progress with this change in tone: Rob Hall as Nathan, who unexpectedly assumes the play’s lead part, is a particular highlight with his frenzied and forceful gestures, but by now the audience really are playing contextual catch up.
It’s hard to know exactly how to sum up this play cohesively, since it wasn’t cohesive itself. The first half was relatively amusing but largely fluff in its content, whilst the second was much stronger and powerful, but so ill at ease with the show’s opening it is emotionally hamstrung. Neither part is intrinsically flawed, but some work is required to make a better-fitting show out of the sadly aptly named Awkward!