This review is from the 2023 Edinburgh Fringe. ‘Bullring Techno Makeout Jamz’ transfers to the Royal Court in. November 2023.
Nathan Queeley-Dennis pretty much had me at the word ‘Bullring’. His debut play ‘Bullring Techno Makeout Jamz’ isn’t simply a starry-eyed paean to his (and my!) home city of Birmingham. Nor does it actually have that much to say about our iconic shopping centre, other than observing it would be a bit of a skanky place to start a date. But it does use the Second City as a sort of swoopingly romantic backdrop to his tale of a young Black Brummie’s escapades on the dating circuit.
Other cities form the backdrops to these sorts of stories all the time. But it’s rarely the case with Birmingham, a city so pathologically self-effacing that apparently a slogan under serious consideration for last year’s Commonwealth Games was ‘come if you want’.
And it’s a joy to hear a giddy coming-of-age story that takes in raves in Digbeth, the seemingly millennia-old MacDonalds on the ramp leading into New Street Station, the roof of the Rotunda; a crowbarred in reminder of the fact that Birmingham has more canals than Venice…
It’s perhaps also a reminder that extremely normal people come from Birmingham, because you could strip the geographical specifics away and still have a pretty buzzy coming-of-age drama about Nathaniel, a young Black man who - via a combination of society’s low expectations, and his own - has failed to really build on his promise and his fine art degree and instead settled for being really shit-hot at his call centre job.
He’s also channelling his considerable creative energies into women, with elaborately planned and itinerised first dates… even if it seems that he rarely gets much further. As the play begins, Queeley-Dennis’s Nathaniel (apparently it’s not autobiographical) launches into a big, funny energetic anecdote about his regular barber taking an 18-week holiday to the Caribbean, and his trepidation at having to find somebody new to trim him ahead of tonight’s date with a girl he’s built up to the extent he now only refers to her as ‘Beyoncé’.
That does not work out, unsurprising. But when Nathaniel gets word that his colleague Kelly is interested in him – and wants to plan their night out herself – he goes on a date that may well change his life forever:
It’s an immensely enjoyable hour, sped along by some nice directorial flourishes from director Dermot Daly and team - notably the section where Nathan’s workmate’s dialogue is represented solely by snippets of Beyoncé songs. There’s a thoughtful subtext about the spaces where young Black men are permitted - be that the art world or clubs playing music that Black people invented. And the show’s not-so-secret weapon is Queeley-Dennis himself, who has a megawatt energy and sunny relatability that makes spending time in his company a delight.
What feels a bit thrown away is the question of why Nathaniel’s love life is so disastrous. Maybe I missed something, but it seems naggingly under-articulated. Is it his lack of self-worth? Has he built his expectations into something insurmountable? Is he closeted? There don’t have to be neat answers to everything, of course. But in ducking that question it feels like it ducks fully fleshing Nathan out. Still, if it’s not quite fully formed, ‘Bullring Techno Makeout Jamz’ is s blast, and marks the announcement of a serious new talent, or rather two: Nathan Queeley-Dennis the playwright, and Nathan Queeley-Dennis the actor.