NIMBY is an acronym; it stands for ‘Not In My Back Yard’. James and Bea have built a utopian existence based on good ethics and liberalism. The air miles of their produce is near nil, their home almost self-sufficient, and their meat is locally sourced – for the days when they are not wholly vegetarian. However there’s one problem: their garden isn’t actually theirs and following the death of rampant philanthropist George George, the legal owner, his rag-bag of maladjusted offspring arrive with claims to the property. Now James and Bea are forced to tolerate their new neighbours and the problems that come with them.
Humorously exposing social facades has long been a theatrical tradition. This new play by Lola Stephenson stretches her characters’ affectations to extreme levels in order to expose their absurdities. But the humour is not as sharp as it could be and sometimes the whole exercise feels, unlike the couple’s vegetables, curiously inorganic.
A lot of the comedy comes from the war of wills between the characters and the gradual exposure of the fragility and vanity of James and Bea’s design for living. Stephenson throws in some fantastic one-liners and the cast perform their roles with energy. Ryan O’Donnell, as James, and Louise Torres-Ryan, as Bea, do a particularly good job with the material. O’Donnell plays James’s incessant desire to resolve issues without treading on any eggshells against Bea’s increasingly desperate insistence on taking affirmative action, no matter what. Laura Dalgleish gives a spot-on performance as Sally, the defensive, brash Welsh prostitute and mother of four, while Daniel Curtis is also amusing as paranoid schizophrenic, Max, who continuously twitches and nervously skulks in the background.
There are a handful of moments when the play starts to drag; some of the punch-lines don’t feel like they justify the long set up and, although you can’t fault Stephenson for her ambitions, the entire situation feels a little too far fetched, the characters veering on the side of ridiculous. As a result the production, directed by Elly Hopkins, can at times feels quite contrived; it’s difficult for the audience to engage with this circus of caricatures. Even the long-suffering James and Bea, lack depth as characters and it’s hard to feel much sympathy for their plight.
There are some nice ideas being explored here, but the excessive nature of the characters and the tone of the piece, make the arguments feel forced; there is little room for them to resonate. Despite this, NIMBY has a degree of real charm; it’s imaginative and amusing even if it does end up over-playing its hand.