On opening night, I huddled into UEA’s Drama Studio for Minatour’s first show of their season. I was also particularly excited as it was my first piece of live theatre I had seen since the pandemic. The play entitled Nothing happens in a Petrol Station performed for three nights at UEA’s Drama Studio. It was entirely created by students, written by last year’s graduates, performed by and directed by their successors. It truly showed off every aspect of UEA’s creativity.
The play surrounds a petrol station which appears to be in the middle of nowhere and follows seven different people and how their lives slowly intertwine. It brings all different ways of life together, from a sex-worker to a policeman. Each scene occurs in the twilight hour of 2am and when a nervous robber accidentally kills the store manager, the policeman decides she must replace her victim as store manager, to pay for the murder he just witnessed. A year later, another man kills her with the same mistake and ends up working there as well, in a cyclical theme that manifests throughout, all coerced and crafted by the police officer and his ill-fitting moral guide. The multiple points of view that entangle each character to be trapped in this gas station like their own personal hell, the idea was innovative, and this came across in every aspect of this performance.
The cast was only made up of seven actors, but each were faultless and brought their own fascinating performance. Additionally, there was a nice sense of familiarity between them which truly added to this realism from simply tiny nuances or how the actors kept a steady pace around the stage, it never felt dull or passive. The actors constantly used all the space around them, and this movement made the plot even more immediate. A huge congratulations to Ruby Belassie who directed with such detail in such a limited amount of time, as the cast and crew were only given a month to rehearse.
The costumes were created by each of the actors themselves, which added another creative twist to this play, as it offered a sense of character but also an insight into how the actor viewed their role and what kind of person they were trying to portray. The scenery was basic but functional, showing the interior of the gas station and the bench outside. Yet each of these items were used frequently by the cast, which truly brought the setting to life. The lighting and sound were also smoothly executed throughout, particularly the projector as it showed the exact date and time of each scene; a crucial part as the play had a non-linear timeline which helped build tension in this gripping drama. Overall, the backstage crew created a supportive front for the actors with steady, precise cues, as this allowed us to see exactly what the writers envisioned.
The actors were each incredible, but I found the policeman (played by Finn Lynch) particularly excellent. This was because they made a character so conceivably dislikeable and such a leering presence onstage, it was hard to believe he was anything other than an immoral police officer that coerced strangers into working in this petrol station. Indeed, his last scene with the sex worker had me enrapt by the abusive relationship between the two characters that I was inescapably invested in. As well as this, the Hitchhiker also stole the show, as his light comic relief got a big laugh from the audience. From his constant nose sniffles to his comedic timing, their huge charismatic presence set the standard high from the beginning.
Ultimately, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, and I thought the cast and crew did incredibly well and I hope they are proud of what they produced.