It’s hard to review Nina’s Got News without revealing what Nina’s news actually is. Nina’s Got News is a kitchen-sink comedy which riffs on sexual history and status – it is a play about rising up, beyond what old friends may think is possible, and what happens when the person at the bottom becomes the person on top.
There is a fun character triangle at play here, which wins the audience.
Frank Skinner’s script is intelligent, but sometimes gets entangled in its own jokes. Here, actors Jessica Clark (Nina), Rob Auton (Chris) and Breffni Holahan (Vanessa), step in to do some heavy lifting. Nina’s news becomes of stratospheric importance to Rob, who has visited her home with his own dour and dusty agenda. Nina and Vanessa are naturally upbeat and perceptive, whereas Rob is a human tectonic plate – grounded and humourless. The chemistry between Holahan and Clark is convincing and they are both regularly side-splittingly funny – Auton is sometimes squeezed out by this duo.
Louie Whitemore’s set design is vibrant and loud. Nina’s kitchen and coffee table is a kind of art deco hydra, where colour roars from the furnishing. Green is Whitemore’s colour of choice, which matches the envy of Chris as he attempts to remind Nina of the merits of their previous relationship. But Nina has news, and as Chris inflates his own ego, Nina is forced to take the high ground time and time again – including when Chris attempts to speak familiarly about her vagina.
The acknowledgment of sexual fairness in the play is refreshing; it isn’t treated like a pastiche, and nor is it a didactic lecture. The unfairness of Chris’ behaviour is twofold – he insists upon placing Nina on a pedestal, whilst also demands that her life was better beneath him – quite literally, his favourite position being missionary.
Nina’s release from Chris is documented venomously by Vanessa (Holahan). There is a fun character triangle at play here, which wins the audience over upon Holahan's entry. Polina Kalinina’s direction is best when at speed: the rapid – fire jokes and exchanges land particularly well, and catch the audience off-guard, regularly creating uproar. Clark’s performance of Nina has a natural buoyancy and she deploys an air of endearing indifference against Auton’s despondent Rob. Holahan commands the space between them like a veteran MC.
Skinner’s script has been interrogated rigorously by both Kalinina and Whitemore – there are no extraneous props, and most script details plant seeds for future arguments and jokes. This is indicative of a well – packaged story, where all information is useful, or buries a reveal for later.
Nina’s Got News is convincing and well-managed story. It positions sexual histories as a ball and chain, and platonic friendships as something of higher value. Skinner's story comments on what happens when two people become divergent: placing one in emotional freefall, and one in optimistic ascendancy. It is a funny kitchen – sink break-up play with a twist. It is clear that Nina can see above the heads of her peers, and that Rob’s motivations are see – through. The creative team at BBC Arts and Avalon have produced a fun and slightly self-aware narrative, which is convincingly humorous and often uplifting.