Nina’s Got News @ Pleasance Dome
Awkward staging and laddish gags let down Frank Skinner's first foray as a playwright
One-time Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Frank Skinner returns to the Fringe with his debut theatre piece, although there’s little chance of Nina’s Got News garnering its own Edinburgh Festival silverware. This toe-curling three-hander is more BBC Three sitcom pilot than dynamic stage play, and it would be a very generous programme commissioner who orders a full series.
The setup is intriguing at least: Jessica Clark’s Nina has invited her pitiful ex-boyfriend, Chris (Rob Auton), and her livewire best friend, Vanessa (Breffni Holahan), round for coffee because she’s an earth-shattering announcement to make. Before we get to the genuinely surprising revelation, though, there’s some excruciating banter to wade through as the recently split couple niggle each other while they wait for Vanessa to arrive.
Laddish gags about premature ejaculation and sexual performance rankings would certainly work in one of Skinner’s 90s stand-up sets but they land with a resounding thud coming from the mouths of 20-something millennials. Neither Clark nor Auton (himself a stand-up) sound comfortable inhabiting Skinner's voice, and the awkwardness is amplified by director Polina Kalinina’s flat-footed staging around Nina’s kitchen table.
The play livens up with Holahan’s sparky presence, but even she can’t redeem Skinner’s dad jokes. “You have to reduce everything,” Chris says to her. “You should taste my consommé” is her grown-inducing reply.
As well as a relationship drama this appears to be a play about faith. Nina’s news turns out to be so outlandish that it requires blind credulity to be taken seriously. Chris, despite being so creepily devoted to Nina that he keeps a lock of her hair in an old After Eight box, is sceptical, while Vanessa, who’s cynical in all other regards, is quick to believe her BFF. At one point it looks like Skinner might be veering into real-world concerns, say the bizarre rise of Flat Earth theorists, moon landing deniers and Donald Trump, but the direction he eventually takes manages to be both supernatural and banal.