At the end of Nate, the title character played by Natalie Palamides says to the audience, “I’ve worked really hard on this show. I hope the message was clear.”
It’s a statement that the audience might think is a joke, absolving them of having to go back over the show and interpret it. It’s a messy, anarchic clown show – there is no message. Of course there isn’t. It is intentionally nonsensical. That’s what clown is. So, when Nate says he hopes the message was clear, it’s sarcastic. Isn’t it?
Nate is a douchebag. He rides in on a motorbike to the tune of Bad To the Bone, and attempts to jump it over a member of the audience, launching himself from a ramp with a large drawing of a large penis graffittied on to it.
He cracks an egg on his crash helmet and eats it, he blows gunpowder into a lighter flame, chugs cans quicker than his competitors, and chops at a piece of wood with a big axe. He is an all-American, alpha, macho moron complete with moustache and black eye.
But that’s not all there is to it.
In 2017, Natalie Palamides won best newcomer at the Edinburgh comedy awards for her show LAID. Praised for its humour, it also managed to pose some poignant questions about motherhood and maternity.
This show is no different in the sense that once Nate has you on the ropes, exhausted from laughing, drunk on motorcycle fumes, and relieved that it wasn’t you that had to wrestle him topless for your girlfriend’s honour, he asks you a sincere question.
Nate is still reeling from a nasty break up with a recent girlfriend. So when his night school teacher comes on to him, he jumps at the chance of a potential rebound. They drink too much, and end up going too far in the Meadows. But when Miss Jackson blacks out during sex, Nate finds himself asking “Was what I did wrong?”
He coached us in the meaning of consent at the top of the hour– by which I mean he groped members of the audience – male and female – but only, crucially, if they gave their explicit consent. Laying on the message thick so we would remember it for later.
And the question does rear up later. The encounter in the Meadows seemed to be consenting at first but what about when Miss Jackson lost control? Should Nate have acted differently? Should he have stopped sooner than he did?
By this point in the story, we actually quite like Nate. Despite his gross displays of machismo, and his poor impulse control, we are rooting for him. He might not be to our taste but there’s a sensitivity behind the mask that tells us he is at least trying to be a good person. So the question comes as a sucker punch. And Palamides hurls it at us mid-scene. Managing to maintain the raucous atmosphere with a flurry of audience debate about what he should or shouldn’t have done in the situation.
It’s a really interesting and ambitious twist which doesn’t feel out of place, posed as it is, in the midst of a wild time. In fact it means that this piece of anarchic clown contributes to a much broader conversation.
If you want it to, that is. The joke about the message being clear at the end is your get out of jail free card. You could just tell your friends that it was bonkers, and forget the stuff about consent.
Nate is brilliant, confrontational character comedy. But the artist behind the clown undoubtedly has a lot to say, and isn’t afraid to speak up.
Natalie Palamides: Nate is at the Pleasance Courtyard until 26 August 2018. Click here for more information.