Saturday, 12 August 2017

Review Catastrophists

A new comedy catches the zeitgeist but fails to live up to its initial promise, says Francis Beckett.

by Jack Stanley 

Apocalypse Soon
I so wanted to like Catastrophists.

The idea is rich with comic possibilities. Husband and wife Harry and Raf, well paid employees and denizens of leafy Barnes, go to their second home in the Cotswolds and invite the neighbours to dinner. 

In this case, it's Peter and Claudia from the field next door, with a carbon-neutral yurt to call home. A couple who live as part of a survivalist commune and also believe the end of the world is nigh

Catastrophists has three good performances and a brilliant one (Elizabeth Donnelly as the monstrous Raf).

Director Cameron Cook with designer Beth Colley have created, in the very small space available to them, a set you can believe is the living room of a second home in the Cotswolds.

The play opens well, with a truly funny and entirely believable argument between Raf and Harry (Alexander Stutt) about whether to serve crisps or flatbread with the guacamole. 

When Claudia (Patsy Blower) arrives, Raf says: “I love your hoodie. It’s so… unapologetic.” In deference to her guests, Raf has dressed in what she calls “hippie chic.”

But after half an hour or so, the script by Jack Stanley loses its way. The more we get to know about the characters, the harder it is to believe in them, until by the end even these four good actors - including Edmund Dehn as Peter - are reduced to bellowing their lines in this tiny venue.  

It is not clear – and there's nothing Ms Donnelly can do to make it clear – why Raf is so desperate for her guests’ approval. Peter and Claudia never quite make sense.  And when Raf has been built up as a rather strong character who knows her own mind, it is not at all clear why the sight of a goat through the window reduces her to a gibbering wreck.

 The White Bear Theatre deserves support. It’s survived the gentrification of its host pub with nothing worse than a move to a tiny but workable theatre upstairs, and it has a coherent new writing policy.

However, this script badly needs someone being cruel to be kind. I have an idea there is rather a good play hidden in there somewhere, but Jack Stanley hasn't written that script, and I can just about muster an amber light for the play that has emerged..

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