In a not too distant future, women, all of a sudden, grow overnight by several feet. They’re left taller and stronger and therefore more able to make their presence felt. So goes the premise of Nine Foot Nine, Sleepless Theatre‘s latest Fringe offering. But we view this cataclysmic happening through the lens of Cara and Nate, a young couple who’ve just discovered they’re expecting their first child. So far, so freshly painted nursery. But then Cara starts “sprouting” and it shakes their formerly solid relationship to the core.
This is an extremely clever script from Alex Wood. Funny, tender, touching and vaguely unsettling, all at the same time. Unlike Naomi Alderman’s The Power, which explores a similarly seismic shift in power, the point of the story is the effect of the “sprouting” on ‘ordinary’ families, with entertaining slices of the wider societal repercussions thrown in for good measure.
Alexandra James is heart-rending as the newly “sprouted”, newly pregnant mum, besotted with her soon-to-be-dad partner. She speaks and signs which isn’t a requirement of the script but fascinatingly, accentuates the challenges that men and women can encounter when trying to be understood.
Misha Pinnington, as Cara’s daughter Sophie, is also beautifully persuasive. She plays a great petulant adolescent but also documents the ageing of the teenager with grace, confusion and charm. Paul O’Dea has the unenviable task of trying to present a sympathetic male character, amongst all these newly empowered women. But he performs his role with elegant aplomb, from his initial uncontrollable excitement at the news that he’ll be a dad – through to end-of-his-tether exasperation when his sprouting daughter’s talents catch up with her.
Helena Jackson brings a much needed light touch to the production. With a topic like this, it’s easy to present an apocalyptic outcome. But this production is presented as a playful “what if?”, albeit with a more insistent message. A simple but incredibly effective set, well chosen costumes and stupendous sound design from Nicola Chang evoke a world changing out of all recognition. Elegant lighting from Jess Hung also helps to evoke a future that’s a little way away from here.
This is a neat premise for a show that’s imaginatively executed so the idea remains centre stage. And those just after a cracking piece of theatre that fits a tidy time slot will not be disappointed.