by Luisa De la Concha Montes
I Was Kinda the Bad Guy is Jaz Johnson’s debut play. This coming-of-age story explores the relationship between Diane (Jaz Johnson) and Nadine (Noah Fence), two friends that have developed a relationship of extreme closeness, becoming “one soul in two different bodies”. Diane’s mum recently abandoned her and she is dealing with the repercussion of this loss, which has made her distrustful of everyone, with the exception of Nadine.
The story starts when Diane makes the choice to turn things around and get help. Convinced by Nadine and her long-forgotten friend Toby, she starts going to therapy. However, it is Nadine who struggles with this change, as she slowly starts realising that when Diane is feeling good, she doesn’t need her as much. When Diane stands for herself, Nadine struggles to understand the concept of boundaries. Progressively, we understand how their relationship, rather than relying on common traits, is based on Nadine’s possessiveness and control.
Their whole dynamic is relatable and quite endearing. As college students, both Nadine and Diane are trying to discover where they stand in the world. Nadine, who embodies the anxiety and anger that every teenager goes through, looks down on the world and casts a judgemental view over everyone. In opposition, Diane, despite being mistrustful and afraid to open up due to the trauma resulting from her mum’s abandonment, remains positive and with a desire to change for the better.
However, despite the characters being well-written, interactions between the actors lack chemistry. The opening of the play is quite abrupt, and it does not provide enough back story to contextualise their friendship; therefore, their interactions with each other feel forced, and awkward. On the other hand, as the play progresses, and we learn how they met and why they connected, their interactions feel more believable. Moreover, Nadine’s interaction with the audience is natural, breaking the fourth wall with ease. The performance Diane’s dad (Artie Carden) is also great, and their humour and funny remarks bring a stabilising energy to the stage that fills the audience with laughter.
Even though at the beginning of the play we are told there will be some audience interaction, this is limited. It only occurs on three occasions almost at the end of the play, and is quite restrictive.The topic itself, which explores what is real and what is not, lends itself quite nicely to more creative explorations of what the audience thinks about both characters’ relationships, so it is a shame that this isn’t explored further.
Moreover, the pace and transitions are clumsy at times. Some scenes feel unnecessarily long, and others are abruptly cut. For instance, when the big plot-twist is revealed, Diane remains on the stage while Nadine awkwardly moves around her. In this case, it may have worked better to cut to black, giving the audience enough time to digest what had happened. Similarly, the scene where Diane’s dad calls his mum is quite emotional and it could have been a great ending, but the play kept going for a few of minutes more.
Despite these issues, the build-up to the big plot-twist is unexpected, even though it is actually mentioned in the show description. The play is also peppered with other details that are widely appreciated such as the t-shirt Diane’s dad is wearing that reads “Protect Trans Youth”, or Toby’s t-shirt saying “I fucking love soup”, ironically pointing to the character’s past struggle with anorexia. Both remarks, despite being subtle, embed the normalisation of the character’s complex identities in a simple yet effective way.
Overall, I Was Kinda the Bad Guy is a successful conversational piece, full of tender moments that advocate for care and openness in personal relationships. It is a good start for what could become a wonderful exploration of mental health, but still needs structural work to reach its full potential.
I Was Kinda the Bad Guy runs through 30 May.
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