It’s a common misconception that birds nest in trees. Some do, of course, but around 30 other species nest in hedgerows. This includes bullfinches, yellowhammers, linnets and even the humble robin, pin-up of many a festive scene. Martha (Caoilfhionn Dunne) and Kurt (Laurence Kinlan) haven’t made their nest in a tree or a hedge, but they have – thanks to Alyson Cummins’ set design – made it within a whole variety of different foliage, bracken and bark.
Being nestled in amongst nature should provide some sort of comfort for the couple. At times it does, like when they head to the allotment and plant the bulbs that will grow like the baby boy in Martha’s womb. For the most part, though, it becomes the thing their lifestyle locks jaws with or violates – as suggested through the exposed metal rods that stick abruptly out of the front of the stage and into the imagined lakeside setting. The relentless march of industrial progress is fucking with nature.
If that seems like too much of a broad thematic interpretation of a play, then that’s because The Nest by Franz Xaver Kroetz (presented here in a new translation by Conor McPherson) is itself based on fairly broad themes. The most glaring of these is the moral dilemma Kurt is faced with when deciding whether to accept illegal and unscrupulous “overtime” from this boss in return for 200€.
The less overt ideas are the set of interlocking themes that arrive later on in the narrative – perhaps to surprise the audience, after they thought it was all about Theme A. This secondary collection incorporates unionisation, returning to nature and socialism/love (depending on how warm-hearted you’re feeling at the time of viewing).
When you’ve got themes as nice as these dancing, happy as Maypole dancers, through the conclusion of a play it seems (say that lovely word with me now) churlish to bitch. Yet even as the most misty-eyed of misty-eyed liberals, I found the final joining-hands over the newly sprung bulbs just a little too ripped from William Morris’ scrapbook.
Ignoring the more clunking pieces of SYMBOLISM (and a bizarrely drawn out attempted suicide scene) there’s also a lot to like about The Nest. This includes the aforementioned set design, which starts off appearing quite empty but, like all family homes, keeps opening up to reveal more hidey-holes of household detritus – cleaning products, bottle feeders, nappy bags, special-occasion suits.
Dunne provides a realistically muted performance as the young mother trapped within a household, trapped within a system. She’s particularly good at conveying the insecurities that come with the security of a long-term relationship – like, does he still find her sexy and will they be doing parenthood wrong if they don’t have all the necessary kit.
The Nest also incorporates a score by PJ Harvey. ‘Incorporates’ is the right word, as the musical interludes feel in some ways more like an integral part of the story than the elements of naturalistic sound design (Gregory Clarke) such as far-away sirens. The subtlety of emotion in the music adds a necessary element of ambiguity or intangibility to counteract the broadness of the embedded themes – interestingly, the blurb to the play text refers to The Nest as a ‘fable’.
But the biggest paradox about The Nest, and the final reason to go watch it, is that its biggest flaw (basing itself around a timeless moral dilemma and continually present dichotomies) is also its most enduring point of interest. As easy as it is to sneer at the heavy-handed ‘Would you dump industrial waste in a lake?’ question from RE Textbook Number 1, there’s no escaping that the gradual accumulation of more and more plastic appliances and fast fashion clothing and dreams of fancier cars does bring with it a distinct and recognisable taste of nausea. As does the pressure exerted on low-paid workers in unstable jobs to always say yes, out of fear of being sacked.
We might think we’re removed from these questions, but carelessly chopping down a hedgerow too soon and destroying all the nests isn’t that far removed from pumping something dodgy into the pale water. And when people do this, they’re probably not deliberately massacring birds. Perhaps they were told to do it, as part of an ever-growing schedule of jobs to get done before the end of the month so that the money came in. And anyway, try as I might to grump, there’s something unavoidably lovely about seeing those little daffodils just starting to poke their heads up through the soil.
The Nest is on until 26th November 2016 at the Young Vic. Click here for more details.