Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester; Monday 8th October, 2018
On the grimy old flat roof of a rundown block of flats, a trio of thirtysomething friends meet up to deliver a defiant protest. They’ve known each other since school: Step and Millsy are dressed as Fred and Barney from the Flintstones and they’ve come prepared with a Father’s 4 Justice banner; but why was Warren already up there, what exactly was he doing on his own?
Nothing But The Roof is a hectic tale of three men defiantly making a stand against anything and everything that just happens to annoy them. Each man reluctantly reveals a host of mid-life-crisis grievances; some are clearly genuine and deeply-rooted, but most are about as trivial and mundane as the grey scaffolding and air-conditioning outlets of the roof that they’re stood upon.
Unemployment, immigration, Brexit, family, bereavement, illness – each man has plenty of complaints and each insists on an interpretative point of view that others simply must accept and acknowledge. But there is no blind acceptance amongst old friends with scores to settle, it doesn’t take long for raging arguments to quickly erupt.
As a performance Nothing But The Roof shines brightest as a hilarious piece of comedic writing. The jokes come thick and fast and are very cleverly released into the flowing storyline, the piss-taking sense of humour of three old friends comes across brilliantly well.
In many ways the lasting impression of this show is that all the heavyweight social and political issues of our time seem doomed to descend into an unresolved cloud of futile bickering. After much deliberation the terrible trio eventually reach agreement that theirs has been “a lifetime of Playstation and pussy: parties, piss-ups and pussy instead of parenting.” It’s almost a relief to see the ranting and raving come to an end with a begrudging acknowledgement that they’ve only got themselves to blame for their raging dissatisfaction with life.
There’s only so much moaning and groaning from grown men that you can take sometimes, and perhaps this performance goes a little too far in presenting complaint after complaint followed by argument after argument – in a two-act performance that’s touching on two hours most of it is spent watching petty squabbling, and even though there are genuinely hilarious moments the squabbling seems to overwhelm some of the slightly less obvious but equally important dimensions of this experience – such as the mild vertigo-like discomfort of seeing these emotionally unhinged men clambering carelessly around rickety scaffolding on a rooftop.
The acting performances began at far too rapid a pace, it felt like lines were being rushed, with some jokes being mis-timed or misplaced. The argumentative and confrontational nature of the scenes left an impression that some lines were being blasted out from memory at top speed, rather than being acted out in the context of the conversation being had. But things definitely improved in the second half as the mood changed from machismo confrontation to a slightly slower-paced atmosphere of dejection and despair.
Despite some weaknesses in delivery style Nothing But The Roof appears to be a promising and innovative piece of theatre that rather unusually pitches the menacing discomfort of a thriller against a razor-sharp comedic script. Acknowledged by the production team as still being in an embryonic development stage, this is a show that already represents an original and very welcome change from the usual outputs of conventional theatre world.