by Philip Ridley
This new piece from Philip Ridley and Shawn Soh may be situated in The Styx but belies the obvious pun being a very short walk from Victoria Line and overground Tottenham Hale stations. The play is three hours or so. And hell, if you can sit through American Graffiti followed by back-to-back Game of Thrones or Dr Who, you'll find this an absolute doddle.
To be accurate the play is Philip Ridley's while the design is Shawn Soh's, but this feels like a piece which started with a storyboard.
An epic seriously tongue-in-cheek post apocalyptic tale, it shares something with Anne Washburn's 2012 Mr Burns which if we want to be arty-farty, academic schmackademick drew on the structure of Boccaccio's The Decameron, Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales and Scheherazade's fate in The Arabian Nights.
However unlike Mr Burns, this piece widens out to a psychic space full of cultural shards against a fragmented, kaleidoscopic human story of life, death and reproduction.
First the fundamentals, or rather the fundament. If you have a bony bum, bring a cushion. TLT's posterior (she can't speak for her gas guzzling companion) is fairly slimline but a bit of seat padding wouldn't have gone amiss.
The action takes place in the cavernous ambulance repair shop - in the first act a traverse playing area with scaffolding and a balcony stage at each end and a transparent cube puled on by a rope. The second act is more traditionally face-on for the audience, single rows of seats sloping down to the playing space, although the patchwork tent backdrop also falls to reveal part of the initial set.
It starts with a dream and voices, maybe from the future, maybe from the past, maybe from a parallel universe, maybe a younger and older mind communing. While there is plenty of inventive visual design to keep one gripped, it struck us as very much a radio play with this template set from the beginning.
Talking of communing, look up at one end balcony and it's a clean cut American Romeo and Juliet or Happy Days (the bubble gum 1950s' series, not the Samuel Beckett version) couple, as High School teens Dean (Theo Solomon) and Libby (Emily Forbes) neck under two moons. Ah, that's a sign of, of - something - isn't it?
This is a world where everyone seems to be a pinko - no, not secret agents - but dressed uniformly in pink and white in a regimented world of milkshakes, proms, cheerleaders (Emily Burnett and Charmaine Wombwell), hereditary leaders ( Lanre Malaolu with obligatory secret service heavy by his side Obi Abili) and assassins.
Yes, there's also something of Evening At The Talk House in all this but also a touch of The Crucible with an aphid version of a witch trial where the "future is decided on a sting" (it may be pertinent to comment that in TLT's dystopian state, it's definitely not a thought crime to consider the role of puns).
Of course - shhh, be careful it's a secret! - science fiction dystopias have always been metaphors of and satires on contempory life. This play both taps into and satirizes the current frenzy of fantasy TV series and movies. And in an interesting twist equates official faith based states and the official and unofficial fanatical spin offs with science fiction, its official and unofficial spin offs and fan fiction. "Religiions and cults spring up so fast", we hear, that followers massacre or are massacred in a day.
It's also about a world where family ties may be discarded and history rewritten for expedient and sterile accounting and recounting but the family tree with its descendants lives on.
If you don't have a mind colonized by popular culture, soaps, conspiracy theories, scifi movies and even Philip Ridley's previous plays, you may be rather Lost (sorry, pun alert!). You may be Lost anyway but at least you'll have smug fun spotting the references as diverse as the Hitler Downfall parodies, Dr Strangelove, The Help.
OK, behind it all there's a straightforward story with the cards shuffled, dependent on your willingness to piece together the tale from the swapped scenes' story board.
At the same time it feels very much a work in progress which will probably sharpen up technically as the run progresses - some of the acoustics, for example, in the first act made for inaudibility although one could grasp the main gist of what was going on,
It feels also as if it needs thinning down but not necessarily totally re-shaping because that would undermine its whole point. Our one thematic (perhaps very personal) proviso is while it's extremely legitimate to criticise America's historical and current actions, domestic and foreign policy, there is sometimes a danger of subtracting knowledge by becoming patronising.
Still, there are many moments of arresting images and performances which linger in the mind. It could have been shorter but it's certainly an event which we wouldn't have missed and it's an amber light from we two critical mutants.