Milk is a graduate with a degree in advertising. He makes his living in the tea-making production line with his friends Tea, Water and Sugar. One day a man from upstairs gives him the job of his dreams, and of his qualification: to work in the advertising department, selling tea to the masses. Tea wears an eye-patch. There is a lot of dancing. If this is looking, swimming and quacking like student theatre to you, then go ahead and eat some duck.
There is never a dull moment in Subliminal Nonsense, with all sorts of things thrown into the teacup: blasting pop music with outlandish dancing, bartender acrobatics, comic characters, pantomime delivery, meta-theatrical gags and much, much more. The four actors onstage are enjoying themselves immensely and we cannot help but join in as they lavishly adorn us with everything they can chuck into a structure that makes some sort of sense.
Yet Subliminal Nonsense never quite manages to become the sum of its parts. Its structure is satisfying enough, with Milk – an outstanding performance from Nick Robertson – finding that making his advert is as formulaic and production-lined as making his tea. But it rushes itself into a two-solution structure, with the first thing the characters try failing in order to make way for more risk and involvement in the finale. The resolution of the plot’s first solution is arbitrary and expositional, compromising the function of the play’s longest segment. There’s also a social satirical element to its portrayal of graduate under-employment that seems a little under-evolved.
None of which, of course, prevents Subliminal Nonsense from being at times wildly entertaining. There are plenty of great jokes, comic interruptions and exquisite details to keep dullness at bay. Robertson’s verse monologue about the proliferation of advertising, which crescendos into a tapestry of slogans and signs, is particularly well delivered, and by far the play’s most sophisticated piece of writing. In its own way its as dazzling as the lights and music that dominate the opening scene. Nonsense it may be, but it’s served piping hot with plenty of milk and sugar.