“They say Two Thousand Zero Zero, party over, out of time,” the Artist Formerly Known as Prince sang on the title track of his funky early-eighties breakthrough album “1999.” It’s a strange lyric when you look at it, laced with nostalgia for an upcoming event, a kind of nihilistic optimism that, even as we face an uncertain future, even though everything might be abruptly reset like a digital clock reaching midnight, we’re still going to party.
So, it’s New Year’s Eve 1999, and we’re introduced to anxious teenager Mary and her precocious younger sister Ruth, traipsing through the woods having abandoned the cool kids’ party they weren’t technically invited to. Mary’s head is full of optimism, a fizzing, undirected yearning for popularity and pop music. For Ruth, though, the future is just a continuation of the same, lame present. While Mary breathlessly spills her plans for the new 21st Century lifestyle she hopes will begin at midnight, Ruth bursts her balloon: “you’ve had your whole life to change!”
Jesse Bateson and Molly-Rose Treves share some great chemistry as the bickering siblings, needling each other with a recognisable mix of frustration and emotional co-dependence, one moment scuffling on the ground, the next trying desperately to hold hands in the dark. Their obvious closeness makes them a compelling counterpoint to the strained relationship of the story’s other couple, survivalist control-freak Joe – a self-effacing Jake Phillips Head – and his partner Clara – an understated Rosa Caines, quietly negotiating the line between supporting a loved one and feeding their delusions.
Author Rory Horne lays out their dialogue in confident naturalistic strokes, casually dropping in era-appropriate touchstones which surf a just-cresting wave of 90s nostalgia. Tamagotchi, Bacardi Breezers, and candy bracelets all get a mention. The phrase “cool beans” is deployed. Much of the show is lit only by the glow of lava lamps.
After a tight, character-driven first half the clocks reach midnight and the show takes a swerve into unexplored – and underwritten – territory, as timelines diverge and a flood of possible futures play out in a sequence of uneven skits. Fragmentary monologues discuss hopes, fears, and fantasies. There’s time travel, a spate of spontaneous pregnancies, and an infectious dance sequence set to S Club 7’s “Bring It All Back.”
While the script lacks the conspicuous moral complexity of the company’s 2017 production “Action at a Distance” – a knotty examination of ethics and consequence – it nonetheless displays the same knack for grappling with big, irresolvable problems. Recent graduates from the New Diorama Theatre’s Emerging Companies programme, Argonaut show a lot of promise and plenty of ambition, but here, it doesn’t quite counterbalance a creeping sense of incompleteness.
It all adds up to a Schroedinger’s Cat of a show – thought provoking but ultimately unsatisfying, packed with unrealised potential. It’s a mass of underexplored ideas held together by some warm central performances and a cannily curated soundtrack which anarchically mashes together hits from Robbie Williams to The Pixies to, inevitably, Prince.
00 is on at Pleasance, Edinburgh until 25th August 2019. More info and tickets here.