By name alone, Bullring Techno Makeout Jamz is quite a lot to take in - at first glance one could easily mistake it for a nonsense jumble of words - and yet Nathan Queeley-Dennis' genius begins as early as the title itself:
The 'bullring' refers to Birmingham's shopping centre monolith; the play is unmistakenly an endearing love letter to the identity of the Midlands, and an honest reflection of the city's society
The play's focus on 'techno' goes far beyond its auditory use within the show, encapsulating the electrifying atmosphere so carefully crafted within the auditorium
While 'makeout' suggests a level of raunchy, sex-driven romance, the subversive sweetness of Queeley Dennis' writing rings even truer, uncovering a wealth of heart and affection
Finally Jamz perfectly encapsulates the high energy, fast paced, and relentlessly entertaining energy captured within the play's text - one would have to be soulless to not find enjoyment within this thrilling play
It's this chaotic concoction of emotions and subject matter that makes the play feel so distinctly personal - a recipe of experiences that could only come from experience. What Queeley-Dennis has achieved is a piece of theatre that perfectly captures an entirely ordinary, but wonderfully specific slice of life, and transforms it into a night of enlightening entertainment.
Incredible praise must be lauded upon Queeley-Dennis' performance, which is nothing short of comedically and empathetically outstanding. Witnessing a writer perform their own work is always something special, and Bullring Techno Makeout Jamz is no exception; the play, which Queeley-Dennis describes as 'emotionally autobiographical', feels passionately honest and the ease with which it is performed gives the piece an almost immersive taste. As fourth walls are smashed and intimate pathos is shared with the audience, there's an undeniable chemistry between Queeley-Dennis' portrayal of Nathaniel and his engrossed audience as the charismatic talent with which he grips the audience is endlessly commendable, and a pleasure to witness so closely. His comedic timing is also remarkable, and when paired with jokes that had me flicking back through the playtext on the way home, makes for a hysterically funny evening of theatre. Yet, Queeley-Dennis equally shines in the play's more subtle, affecting moments, with his closing monologue being delivered with a delicate attention to detail, and creating a beautifully emotional conclusion.
Also to be lauded is the use of music and sound design; while narratively diegetic, Tom Foskett-Barnes crafts a soundscape that breathes life into the production, forming a dynamic background hum that underpins much of Nathaniel's dating life. It's a subtle touch that works wonders in elevating the play from a brilliant monologue to a piece of theatricality. The pinnacle of the play's music, however, comes within the final third - it's brilliance comes in its unexpectedness so no spoilers here, yet the ecstatic applause mid scene speaks volumes for the writing and performing talent of Queeley-Dennis.
Beyond its entertainment, this is a play that has much to say - while it masquerades itself as a light-hearted conversation, topical issues subtly simmer under the surface; from references to the cost of living, to comments on immigration, Queeley-Dennis smartly allows these ideas to linger in the audiences mind, while never aggressively preaching them outwardly. The most profound topic to me, however, was that of masculine love. While often poked fun of in the play, the script draws attention to the love that exists between men and their friendships, and focuses on the joy that stems from them, creating an uplifting and life affirming lesson of togetherness.
While some plays strive to declare grand declarations of life, and others high concept and complex flexes of creativity, Bullring Techno Makeout Jamz thrives in its ability to make the ordinary a spectacle in of itself. It's not big, it's not flashy, but at the end of its brief 1 hour runtime I was left not only with a smile and a very full heart, but also wishing I could have sat and watched another 2 hours. While the protagonist, Nathaniel, may face struggles at winning over the hearts of his dating partners, I can say with no reservations that this play has won over my entire heart.
Radiating warmth, authenticity and a beautiful heart that it wears on its sleeve, Bullring Techno Makeout Jamz has a wonderful ability to elicit tears of uncontrollable laughter, and of bittersweet sadness; Nathan Queeley-Dennis has delivered a triumphant masterclass in how to write from the heart, for the heart. Bullring Techno Makeout Jamz is playing at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre until 20th of December. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Mihaela Bodlovic