Posts Tagged ‘Anne Washburn’

Anne Washburn is an original and interesting playwright, but after a third exposure to her work, this juror’s still out on whether she’s a good one.

Jools & Jim have invited five friends to their new remote country home. They’re not experienced in country living and they’re not particularly good hosts, so as the weather deteriorates and the power is cut off, their supplies run out. They don’t run out of conversation, though, as they reflect on life in Trump’s divided America and how they got there. These are the liberal Americans – a wealthy gay couple, New York lawyers Andrew & Yusuf, a struggling straight, somewhat alternative couple, Richard & Laurie, and singleton Allie. The conversation widens to all sorts of apparently related subjects including the Jonestown massacre, racism & colonialism and Lord of the Rings!

We’re occasionally visited by Mark, the adopted black son of white parents who appear to be the former inhabitants of the house, who tells us his story. We also get a meeting between Trump and George W Bush as president, and towards the end a surreal version of that infamous confrontation between Trump and FBI chief Corney. There’s an awful lot of ground covered but at almost 3.5 hours it didn’t sustain its length (there were a conspicuous number of empty seats after the interval). Often thought-provoking and fitfully gripping, it was too much of a ramble, wordy and undramatic, lacking coherence, a download of thoughts and ideas, trying to say so much that more became less.

It’s staged in the round, in a design by Miriam Buether which has a partly revolving stage and a platform against the back wall on which there are projections. There was one row of audience sitting in chairs close to the stage as if at a dinner table, who participated in the surreal scene. There are lovely performances from Justine Mitchell, Fisayo Akinade, Adam James, Elliott Cowan, Tara Fitzgerald, Khalid Abdalla, Raquel Cassidy and Risteard Cooper, but these and Rupert Goold’s production are a lot better than the material.

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Well, I think its unseasonal seasonal entertainment. It felt like travelling back in time to my childhood, being given the Twilight Zone Annual and flicking through it on Boxing Day, consumed by its tales of mystery (even though it wasn’t actually part if my youth!). I rather liked it.

Anne Washburn has taken stories from eight episodes of the TV show from four series between 1959 and 1964 and created a mash-up. There are tales of aliens landing, people disappearing, space travel and other dimensions. At first the interweaving is a bit irritating, but you soon go with it. It only jarred once for me, in a scene of racism amongst neighbours during an alien invasion scare. Otherwise, it’s all very tongue-in-cheek and there’s a lot to make you smile, some to make you laugh and it somehow feels nostalgic.

It takes place inside a giant TV whose walls are covered in stars. Props enter from everywhere, brought in by cast members in camouflage that matches the walls; a lovely touch. It’s very 60’s in style and monochrome in design – a palette of black, grey and silver with a touch of blue. Paul Steinberg’s design and Nicky Gillibrand’s costumes are terrific, there are great illusions from Richard Wiseman & Will Houstoun, superbly atmospheric and authentic TZ music by Sarah Angliss and its quirky in a way only director Richard Jones can do.

Ten actors play forty-two roles plus narrator and there are four supernumeraries, and there are some delightful performances amongst them, pitched somewhere between retro, mystery, comic book and B movie.

It’s not really a play, more a selection box, but I greatly admired it’s execution and thought it was something different and jolly good fun.

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Time to make my own mind up about this marmite show. So where do I stand? Well, in neither camp really. Clever and original, but long drawn out and more than a bit dull.

In a post-apocalyptic America, a handful of survivors sit around a fire clinging to the past, and in particular popular culture, here represented by an episode of The Simpsons. They reminisce and re-live it. In Act II, 7 years on, they’re re-enacting episodes, complete with set, costumes and adverts. Other groups have set up in competition and there’s a trade in script lines. In the third act, 75 years later, they’re performing a full blown pompous gothic pop opera of the episode.

The messages, that we cling to memories, however accurate, and popular culture unites in adversity is fine, but laboured in three 40 minute acts, each of which outstay their welcome. To be honest, I was rather bored by it all. There’s nothing wrong with playwright Anne Washburn’s idea or the execution of it by director Robin Icke and designer Tom Scutt and a good cast, it’s just not substantial enough to be a rewarding evening in the theatre for me.

A lot has been said about the need to understand The Simpsons to appreciate the piece. Though this would clearly help you pick up on detail and get the broader ‘in joke’, I’m not sure its entirely necessary – but then again The Simpsons has by and large passed me by.

Not a rave. Not a whinge. Just a bucket-load of indifference. I can’t even be arsed to write a longer review!

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