Nick is a promising young artist setting up for a new exhibition presenting an opportunity to impress those in the industry. He is clearly regarded as a real talent by his peers and seems to have a bright future, but he is feeling under pressure, and as the evening progresses, memories from his past come back to haunt him.
The 27 Club is a clear reference to the number of artists – think Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain – that died at the age of 27, and the play jumps straight into Nick’s troubled world as he sets up at the gallery. Fellow artist, Beatrix, recognises his desperation and attempts to communicate, but he rejects her and welcomes the distraction provided by the arrogant Jon. Flashbacks to scenes with his girlfriend Polly find him similarly uncommunicative to someone who clearly cares.
Niall Nicholson as Nick is on stage almost all the time, but is hamstrung by Lewis Lauder’s script which requires him to be intense and overwrought at all times. There simply isn’t any light and shade available, and Nick seems like a distinctly unlikeable character, who is deeply unpleasant to Polly (Tiana Milne-Wilson is a stand out here, bringing welcome warmth and humanity). He also stands back in the gallery scenes as misogynist Jon (Colin MacDonell) attacks Beatrix (Jennie-Lee Green).
Nick may be very unhappy, but there must be something about him that leads so many other characters to care what happens to him. Unfortunately the audience don’t see it, despite brief hints at tenderness with his model Lawrence (Jonathan Craig). This is a fatal flaw, because in a play as dark as this, we need to care about the protagonist on some level.
Some of the points that the play tries to make are confused; there is a link implied between early physical illness and later mental illness, with sister Melissa (Lucy Philip) claiming that “(Nick) was always ill” as if somehow his troubles are inevitable and can’t be helped, which seems to suggest hopelessness. And yet, simultaneously, there is a conflicting message that there is something else he can’t come to terms with, outside of physical illness.
It is a play that wants to say something about mental health issues and the links with genius and the pressure that artists are under, but is muddled and too often resorts to cliché, while the unremitting bleakness makes it hard to engage with the central figure and the piece as a whole.