Wednesday 27 March 2019

The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

Curve, Leicester

26th March, 2019

“Everyone in this town’s a crook”

With a hotly anticipated year-long residency at the Vaudeville Theatre commencing later this year, numerous television specials under their belts and producing one of the longest running plays in London and New York history, Mischief Theatre have proven themselves to be one of the biggest success stories of contemporary mainstream theatre. And, as with all their previous productions, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery proves exactly why their triumph is so deserved. Heading out on its first UK tour, Bank Robbery is a madcap crime caper with broad appeal and some ingenious staging.

A prized diamond belonging to Prince Ludwig of Hungary is being held for safekeeping by a bank run by shady tycoon, Robin Freeboys (Damian Lynch). Meanwhile, with the aid of a dim-witted jail officer, bad-boy convict Mitch Ruscitti (Liam Jeavons) escapes prison with plans to steal the diamond and pull off the biggest bank heist Minneapolis has ever seen. Yet unbeknownst to Mitch, his girlfriend (and Freeboys’ daughter) Caprice (Julia Frith) has fallen for small-time swindler Sam (Seán Carey). Following a series of miscommunications and mistaken identities, Mitch must enlist the help of Caprice and Sam to break into the vault.

As with all Mischief productions, the plot initially appears to be a mere syphon for a series of increasingly absurd slapstick routines and one-liners, yet their ability to pull together every single story thread into not only a coherent, but often unexpected and hilarious conclusion demonstrates just why Messrs Lewis, Sayer and Shields are masters of their craft. From intricate wordplay worthy of a Two Ronnies sketch, to perfectly choreographed physical comedy and moments of brilliant surrealism (two words: ‘seagulls’ and ‘moustache’!), there really is something to suit practically every taste. 

The overall style feels similar to a Zucker Brothers film such as Airplane! or Naked Gun, but there are also allusions to Abbott and Costello, Marc Camoletti and Seth Macfarlane – but it’s all first rate stuff which doesn’t pale in comparison. Highlights include George Hannigan’s full-bodied approach to playing three individual characters involved in a fight with each other, some wonderful riffs on names, a top-notch bedroom farce involving an unconscious body, a maintenance man and a flock of unruly birds, and a birds-eye scene in which a delicious feat of design, direction and choreography sees everything played vertically.

I’d be hard pressed to pick highlights from such a stellar cast, but having read the programme I’m stunned that Bank Robbery marks the professional debuts of both Hannigan and Frith, so assured and comically sharp are their performances. Elsewhere, David Coomber has more than a touch of Will Ferrell’s Buddy the Elf about him as the childlike prison officer-cum-accomplice, Cooper, while Carey affords conman Sam an affable charm and Jon Trenchard steals almost every scene as lovable loser, Warren Slax.

Fast-paced, laugh-a-minute and genuinely suspenseful, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery ticks all the boxes. I even found the use of doo-wop 50’s tunes to have more thought behind it and panache than in Laura Wade’s Home, I’m Darling, another recent British comedy that showcased a similar aesthetic. This tour is yet another smash-hit to add to their growing repertoire, and I absolutely cannot wait to see what Mischief Theatre produce next from their seemingly endless bag of tricks!

The Comedy About A Bank Robbery plays at Curve, Leicester until 30th March.
For further UK tour details please visit:
The cast of The Comedy About A Bank Robbery.
Credit: Robert Day.

Monday 25 March 2019

Edmond de Bergerac

Birmingham Rep

23rd March, 2019, matinee

‘Your play is going to be magnificent.
All you have to do is write it’

Cyrano de Bergerac is nigh on legendary, whether one knows of the man/the story via celebrated productions starring such stage greats as Derek Jacobi and Anthony Sher, the 1950 film version starring José Ferrer, or the contemporary 80’s Steve Martin film Roxanne – the romantic figure with the comically large nose is ubiquitous in Western culture. But little is known about the man that made the legend, Edmond Rostand, a 19th Century French playwright whose legacy seems eclipsed by that of his creation. Alexis Michalik’s play (translated by Jeremy Sams) detailing the fictionalised writing process behind Cyrano, impishly titled Edmond de Bergerac, receives its English premier in Roxana Silbert’s light-hearted and giddily enjoyable production.

Paris in the dying years of the 19th Century and young Edmond Rostand’s (Freddie Fox) latest play, ‘The Distant Princess’, is bombing with audiences and critics alike, despite the efforts of star leading lady Sarah Bernhardt (Josie Lawrence). Dejected, rejected by his peers, suffering from writer’s block, and under pressure from his cash-strapped wife (Sarah Ridgeway) to write a much-needed hit, Edmond eventually finds unlikely inspiration in a small Parisian café. Witnessing the café owner Monsieur Honoré’s (Delroy Atkinson) witty, verbose, self-deprecating but undoubtedly scathing put-down to a racist customer, Edmond is spurred into action. And so Cyrano was born.

With the support of the talented but debt-ridden actor, Coquelin (Henry Goodman), Edmond sets to work on his latest effort. However, the path to artistic perfection never doth run smooth… Feeling his poetic writing is unappreciated in modern society, Edmond lacks the motivation he requires. That is, until he stumbles across young theatre dresser, Jeanne (Gina Bramhill), the would-be suitor of his friend, the handsome but dim actor, Léo (Robin Morrissey). Entreated by Léo to help him woo Jeanne with romantic verse, Edmond soon becomes enraptured by the young woman; his deceitful exchange of love letters with her providing muse enough to bring his play to life.

Michalik’s reflective piece not only borrows some of its plot from Rostand, but also replicates the rhyming verse which, while deemed unfashionable in Rostand’s time, came to characterise Cyrano. Yet Michalik cannot be accused of mere imitation. The play is farcical (balconies, wobbly ladders, mistaken identities, errant trapdoors…) and fast paced, meaning the 2 ¾ hour run time felt a breeze. Silbert’s production feels suitably frenetic – props fly, actors stumble, at one point the house lights were accidentally switched on – which ultimately adds to the play’s charm. There are also some nicely choreographed moments which stand out, including a hotel scene featuring Feydeau which could be worthy inspiration for one of his farces, and a cinematic sequence which condenses months of writers’ block.

Highly theatrical and tongue-in-cheek, we are nevertheless invested in the future of Coquelin’s career, the Léo/Jeanne/Edmond triangle, and even the fate of Coquelin’s atrocious actor-cum-baker son, Jean (Harry Kershaw). This is very much down to Michalik’s sympathetic script (funny when intended, heartfelt when necessary) and fun performances from a charming cast. Fox is extremely likable as the unassuming Edmond, Lawrence has a ball hamming it up as France’s leading lady, and Goodman delivers a Cyrano worthy of the greats (when he’s not being chased by investors and debt-collectors).

The production is rounded off with Robert Innes Hopkins’ joyously retro set – who can resist the alluring glamour of a red curtain and gold-gilded footlights? – and jaunty but atmospheric accordion music from composer Dave Price. Edmond de Bergerac left me thoroughly entertained; Michalik has created France’s answer to Shakespeare in Love and I wouldn’t be surprised if, while not quite reaching the heights of Cyrano – for what could? – Edmond continues to go from strength to strength as a mainstream and popular modern metatheatrical farce.

Edmond de Bergerac plays as the Birmingham Rep until 30th March 2019.
The cast of Edmond de Bergerac.
Credit: Graeme Braidwood

Wednesday 20 March 2019

The Worst Witch

Curve, Leicester

Tuesday 19th March, 2019

‘The Witching Hour…’

Back before the boy wizard, Harry Potter, took over the world there was another series of children’s books about a school for magic, featuring equally mischievous and quirky characters. Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch series has spawned two television adaptations along with generations of wannabe sorceresses. I’m delighted to say that Emma Reeves’ new stage adaptation loses none of Murphy’s gleeful mayhem and enchantment in a production directed by Theresa Heskins’ that fizzes with female empowerment and classroom high jinks.

Mildred Hubble (Danielle Bird) is an ordinary girl that somehow stumbles across the gathering coven of young witches about to be packed off to Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. Enrolled into the school, Mildred tries to integrate with her classmates, and while her goofy charm wins over the friendship of meek but kind Maud Spellbody (Rebecca Killick), her magical ineptitude draws unwanted attention from the local bully, Ethel Hallow (Rosie Abraham), and the icy glares of the shrewd Miss Hardbroom (Rachel Heaton). Throw in the rebellious Enid Nightshade (Consuela Rolle) and Miss Cackle’s evil twin sister, Agatha (Polly Lister), and the academy is thrown into chaos - only the sharp thinking and co-operation of the girls can save the school.

This alone is enough to have every child and adult on the edge of their seat with excitement, but Reeves throws in a curveball with a metatheatrical take on Murphy’s characters. From the start we are made aware that none of the magic we shall see on stage is real; it is merely the clever use of props and staging as directed and performed by the Cackle’s Academy schoolgirls in their first ever play, written by Mildred Hubble herself. So when supernatural imposters and genuine enchantments take over the production the audience also become embroiled in the race to rescue the night and the school. 

Reeve’s text is assuredly layered and perhaps the most sophisticated ‘family’ show I’ve seen thus far. We are never patronised and the message of togetherness and friendship doesn’t feel overly sentimental – there’s plenty of gruesomeness and spite to sink our teeth into, while Mildred remains loveable and completely relatable in her clumsy awkwardness. It was also an absolute joy to see a stage populated entirely by supremely talented women, all of them acting, dancing, singing and playing a multitude of instruments with natural ease.

Among other delights, the piece features a series of quirky songs that capture the cookyness of the source material while bringing a modern edge to proceedings. Meanwhile, a spectacular aerial broomstick display seems to throw the health and safety rulebook out the window in a feat of daring gymnastic pandemonium. The Worst Witch really does have something for everyone and, in promoting fierce aspirational women for young girls to look up to, is pretty perfect family entertainment.

The Worst Witch plays at Curve, Leicester until 24th March.
For further UK tour details, please visit:

Danielle Bird and Rachel Heaton in The Worst Witch.
Credit: Manuel Harlan.

Monday 18 March 2019

Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train

Young Vic, London
2nd March, 2019, matinee

Shut the fuckity fuck up

The joy of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train is in meeting his characters: watching them perform to each other; hearing their patois and verbal brio; exude a charisma which they know gives them power. I recently read two other of his early plays, Our Lady of 121st Street and In Arabia, We’d All Be Kings. Both largely feature screw-ups and miscreants, but they also feature reformed characters. In Our Lady…, former pupils of the deceased (and missing!) Sister Rose reunite from as far LA to say goodbye to their saviour, whilst in In Arabia…, Lenny has recently been released from prison and tries to make amends. In both plays, people and places are not what they once were or what they could have been. In Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train, the themes of redemption and religion are more pronounced, more entrenched in a tighter group of characters.

Kate Hewitt’s production and Magda Willi’s design are deceptively simple. A long traverse stage, no more than two meters wide with a concrete floor, runs from one end of the auditorium to the other. Above, over 40 white spot lights illuminate this catwalk. Four glass doors slide back and forth to create the different places, most notably the separated isolation yards in Rikers Island Prison. It’s an aesthetic which is extremely clean in its execution, and one which gives the illusion (conversely) of space, light and freedom. I particularly liked the way you could see reflections in the glass, to create the sense that characters might be talking to, arguing with, or convincing themselves. Whereas other productions have enclosed the action in cages, the action and performances here – although the characters are still very much confined – are fully opened out. It allows Lucius’ evangelism to soar and Hanrahan’s monologues to gain an air of a courtroom. Furthermore, staging it in the round allows the guard Valdez (a smug and pitiable character played very well by Joplin Sibtain) to roam all levels of the auditorium, in turn creating a panoptican effect. The characters have nowhere to hide so it heightens the idea of performance. And these characters sure do perform!

The legal procedural in the play centres around Angel, who finds himself facing a murder charge after shooting a church/ cult leader in his water buffalo-sized ass in an attempt to rescue his friend. The reverend subsequently, and indirectly, dies. His lawyer Hanrahan (played with methodical control by Dervla Kirwan) takes a liking to him and agrees to represent him. We see how his case becomes of a professional project for her but there’s also a personal connection. We hear a story of how her father stabbed someone at a dance when she was younger, but only with a fork – it’s as crucial a qualifying detail as Angel shooting the Rev only in the ass. Here lies one of the ways in which Adly Guirgis confronts us with the question of if there is ever honour or reasonable justification in crime.

In Rikers, Angel meets Lucius Jenkins, a born again Christian and cold blooded killer. There’s much about Lucius to dislike, although this is after we’ve warmed to him. But mostly there is a lot of reason to like him or at least be impressed by him. He relishes his one hour of sunlight a day and he has all of the joie de vivre of a free man. One of the guards even brings him cookies and talks to him about his personal life. There may be a cage and 24 hour security around him but he is free of mind. Or at least that’s what he has us believe, so convincing is Lucius’ performance? Or perhaps that’s what he believes himself? Oberon K.A. Adjepong’s performance lives up to the bar that Lucius sets himself. It’s a highly physical (as much as it can be in that small space) performance which takes advantage of all the humour in the text. But he’s also unnerving, conjuring Lucius’ coldness which shows his disregard to life, despite his vivacity. In some ways, Lucius’ presence is the contrary to Ukweli Roach’s as Angel Cruz. Whilst one side of the stage is lit up by Lucius, Roach is curled up and silent near his cell door, eyes turned away. For Angel, Lucius is a saviour, someone to rebut cigarettes from, or a springboard to perform back off. There’s a hilarious moment when he’s questioning Lucius’ piety and the preposterousness of the idea that he might have shot Jesus.

Adly Guirgis raises questions about justice and redemption, what’s right and wrong, and the power of belief. How does the system treat people the same when the circumstances are so different? And they come through these characters whose unbridled sense of humour, stories, dialogue, and street-wise sense of authenticity, despite being locked out of society, are remarkable.

Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train plays at the Young Vic until 6th April, 2019
Oberon K.A. Adjepong and Ukweli Roach in Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train. Credit: Johan Persson

Tuesday 5 March 2019

The Girl on the Train

Curve, Leicester
4th March, 2019

I have to finish my story

In the programme for The Girl on the Train (adapted from Paula Hawkins’ bestselling novel), there is an article about the enduring appeal of the thriller, both to audiences and theatres. Referencing The Mousetrap as the epitome of stage thrillers, the one room eight-suspect whodunit engages the inner-sleuth in all of us and works as satiating entertainment at a relatively low cost for producers. The Girl on the Train is more contemporary, both in its subject and staging. There is a strong balance between a suspenseful whodunit that drives the play and a psychological element about memory and control, and abusive relationships. Anthony Banks’ competent production (although not without some awkward moments) successfully adds momentum, movement and suspense.

Brought to the stage in Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel’s occasionally stilted adaptation, Hawkins’ story starts with the Rachel, a divorced alcoholic living in a grimy bedsit. On the train each day, Rachel goes by the big house she used to live in and understandably becomes obsessed with the life she’s lost. One of the neighbouring houses becomes the centre of a fantasy: the perfect couple kissing on the terrace in their leafy suburban home. And then that woman goes missing, and all eyes are on our unreliable protagonist.

A big question in the play is about Rachel’s autonomy and the ‘black holes in her memory’. This motif is cleverly utilised in both text and design. In the missing woman’s (Kirsty Oswald as Megan) home, a vortex-like artwork hangs on the wall with a black hole in the middle. The emptiness in the middle of it, what that space is supposed to represent, and who has control of that is a key interest. This is also expressed visually in James Cotterill’s set. A black box welcomes both real worlds (smoggy underpasses, one-room flats, large and stylish London family homes) and visual representations of memory and fiction. On the whole, it’s a clever design which is exciting to watch, also thanks to Jack Knowles’ theatrical lighting and Andrzej Goulding’s cinematic (uber-theatrical?) projection. However, it’s occasionally clunky, with an odd mid-scene blackout and possibly the most ridiculous way of getting two chairs onto a stage ever achieved. Samantha Womack brings an arsenal of experience from EastEnders to the dramatically demanding role of Rachel. She’s a character in the throes of a crisis who doesn’t know if she can trust herself, after years of having had her sanity questioned and doubt drip-fed into her rationality. Womack conveys all of this very well and carries the play through its two hours. Also impressive is John Dougall as DI Gaskill. His character is very well written, fleshing him out so he’s more than just a 2-D detective but also an interesting character in his own right that sways against type.

In some ways, The Girl on the Train is a well-staged, entertaining-enough soap. But on another note, Banks and the rest of the creative team have redefined what the thriller can be and look like in the 21st century. After seeing several poor thrillers on the touring circuit last year, The Girl on the Train, probably thanks to its contemporary setting and relatable characters (an OAP Sherlock Holmes with a crack addiction didn’t quite work for me), is a sure-fire hit. To back up this point, the producers have just extended the tour by an extra 14 weeks. And in my mum’s opinion, who was a big fan of the novel, it’s much better than the Americanised film!

The Girl on the Train plays at Curve, Leicester, until 9th March and then tours until November 2019. For further information about tour dates, please see

Samantha Womack in The Girl on the Train. Credit: Manuel Harlan

Friday 1 March 2019

#ReadaPlayaWeek - February

Breathing Corpses (2005), by Laura Wade

“I touched something, or I was touched – I don’t know”

We’ve all seen stories in newspapers and tv bulletins about people out walking their dog when they stumble across a body. Those people are soon forgotten about, overshadowed by the story at large – but it must have an effect on them, right?

Laura Wade ponders this topic with queasy cyclicality in Breathing Corpses. The play opens and closes with young chamber maid, Amy, discovering a body nestled in the sheets of a suburban hotel room – and it’s not her first. Pills and a note lead Amy to wonder who the man is, or used to be, and what led him to this morbid end. In answer to this puzzle, Wade’s play takes a series of backwards steps, with each scene seemingly explaining its predecessor. We meet an array of interesting characters, from storage unit proprietors, to an abusive workaholic that bares a grudge against her boyfriend’s dog, to a charmingly enigmatic kitchen utensil supplier.

As an exploration of fatalism Wade’s play is intriguing, but it ultimately poses more questions than it answers. I longed to spend more time with her characters (loathsome as some are), discover more about their motives and perhaps empathise with, or at least understand, their actions. However, there are moments of lucidity which perfectly capture the mental anguish of regret, denial and paranoia.

Published by Oberon Books.

Adult Child/Dead Child (1987), by Claire Dowie

“You want to hit out because of this lack of love that you can’t explain”

Claire Dowie’s monologue tackles the vicious circle of childhood neglect, abuse and mental illness, and the life-long effects they have on a person. Prosaic but profound, Dowie’s text is a collage of memory, poetry and soliloquy which propels us through the early life of her nameless protagonist with rhythmic intensity.

Dowie’s child is anonymous and genderless – all we know is that they suffer deeply. The child’s parents are constantly disappointed with them, locking them in cupboards and dishing out cruel ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ punishments when the protagonist does anything wrong. From a lack of affection, the child clings to any form of attention on offer, manifesting mostly through its imaginary friend, ‘Benji’. Benji is reckless. Benji lashes out at those that oppress the child, but Benji never gets the blame. The lack of trust in adults and the frustration regarding their inability to express their feelings leads the child down a dark path of destruction and isolation.

The language is simple and repetitive, demonstrating an understanding of infantile thought patterns. Thus the events described are even more shocking due to this childish, naive perspective. Adult Child/Dead Child is a tough read, but enlightening nonetheless, and not without glimmers of hope. The importance of kindness, honesty and compassion are emphasised in later scenes, as the now young adult protagonist creates a circle of friends. Yet the lasting impact of a distraught childhood has undoubtedly scarred the protagonist, and we know that the struggle will continue and Benji will continue to rear her head to coerce and fill the hole that familial love abandoned.

Published by Methuen.

Thatcher’s Women (1987), by Kay Adshead

We’re just ordinary women you and me, we’re not cut out for…

In the postscript to Thatcher’s Women, Adshead explains the phenomenon in the late 80s of housewives coming to London ‘in their thousands’ to earn some quick money as prostitutes. In her play, first produced by Paines Plough at the Tricycle, the inevitable closure of a northern tinned meat pudding factory puts many out of work, adding to the already-high numbers of the unemployed. This may be a familiar trait for drama at the time, but Adshead chooses to place the play’s focus on the story of three women going from the dole to the moll. What emerges is a fast paced story of women finding and losing their voices in London, and an interesting take on enterprise in Thatcher-era Britain.

Each woman has a defined and interesting arc even, and the argument that the characters make to justify their decision is interesting. Marje sees it as an escape from the social restrictions put on women like her: ‘because we were worthless they wanted us to… stay quiet, stay inside, … so they could forget us. But I did something extraordinary’. This autonomy, although it risks her life and health, is a path to being something more. We’re left to question if Lynda, the youngest of the three, has been the most successful even if she’s earnt the most money. In one scene, she has been rendered unconscious and physically marked, yet she still dreams of creating her own escorting business which pays enough for a Central London penthouse, fur coats and two holidays a year. It’s a reminder that, with Thatcherism, success relies on money. Norah probably returns home with less money than she arrived with but we see form a peculiar friendship with a man at the King’s Cross buffet (long before the days of Pret). However, as much as I enjoyed the scenes of her ‘cultural enlightenment’ around London, these raise some questions which are not fully explored about the ‘north-south’ divide in the play.

Adshead evokes strong northern female characters that are reminiscent of those in Kay Mellor’s work. However, imagery of nature and cruelty permeate the play in a fascinating. Marje’s strange affinity with a fox on Wandsworth Common is like an epiphany, giving her a purpose beyond what she had previously known. But at what cost? And perhaps pre-empting plays such as Stef Smith’s Human Animals, the work of Jez Butterworth and Thomas Eccleshare’s Pastoral, we see a hint of animals holding an ancient hold over the city.

Published by Methuen.

Superhoe (2019), by Nicôle Lecky

I’m not lonely, I’ve got two thousand eight hundred followers

It’s a shame I missed this at the Royal Court. As well as writing it, Lecky took the starring role as wannabe musician Sasha and played all of the supporting characters. The text alone is quite a feat, moving from monologue to quasi-dialogue, creating a fully-believable, talented and flawed 24 year old whilst also capturing the voices of different characters. Plus original songs! Having split up with her long term boyfriend and no longer welcome in her family home, Sasha is forced to stand on her own two feet. Used to sitting in her room smoking weed and laying down tracks which she imagines she’s performing at a live lounge, she now finds herself sleeping on the sofa of someone who keeps machete on the wall and has an apparent mental health problem. Then she enters the world of social media lifestyle models, adult-camming and eventually escorting.

Lecky’s language and portrayal of London (from rundown bedsits to unbelievably extravagant, ‘charity’ parties) is highly astute and evocative. She doesn’t shy away from the realities, the lifestyle and the repercussions of how she’s earning (good) money. Of course, it’s a more contemporary depiction than in Thatcher’s Women, but it also is more honest, specific and, at times, brutal. As her lifestyle becomes more that of dreams, the more she loses a sense of herself: “I look at my page sometimes and think ‘Fuck me do I want her life,’ then I realise I do have my life only it’s slightly different”. This seems to be a play inspired by Fleabag. This is not only in regards to its subject, its fearless approach to it, and its humour. It’s also relating to the depiction of feeling lost and destructive in a society where opportunities are not as open to all. And interestingly, both Sasha and Thatcher’s women are drawn to prostitution because of the social pressures, whether 1987 or 2019.

Published by Nick Hern Books.



Almeida Theatre
20th February, 2019

“What if they’re right? They are called the Right”

Traipsing through the streets of Islington on our way to the theatre on a chilly winter’s evening we spotted an estate agent advertising quaint holiday cabins for sale in the Swiss Alps. A jolly jaunt of a buy for the discerning upper-middle-class couple from the affluent boroughs of London. These surroundings seem apt for Anne Washburn’s latest offering, Shipwreck, a marathon play that takes direct aim at the Trump Administration. A group of middle-aged, upper-middle-class liberals congregate at the newly bought mountainside house of couple, Jools and Richard. No heating, no lighting, no food or drink, and at threat of being snowed in, our intrepid socialists indulge in a rustic adventure, playing at debating and progressive one-upmanship.

Naturally, these discussions predominantly take the form of Trump-bashing. Washburn takes easy pot-shots at Trump’s sexism, racism, terrible business sense, and quasi-incestuous relationship with Ivanka. So far, there is little that you wouldn’t hear on social media, UK panel shows, or satirical newswipes such as The Daily Show – except it’s nowhere near as funny. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of intrigue; one character points out that the biggest lie Trump ever told is largely brushed aside as it doesn’t profit the left to criticise it (the statement in question refers to Trump having warned George W. Bush numerous times about the disadvantages of going to war in the Middle-East). The character in question, Yusuf (Khalid Abdalla), is the most interesting of the group (incidentally, he’s also the only non-white person amidst the friends). His testimony as to why he voted for Trump seems at once to make sense while also being incendiary within his social circle. 

There are also some neat musings on art and theatre in particular. The group debate the merits of analogy and allusion, and the ways they can skewer the present socio-political climate while being entertaining. This discussion, however, is brief. Perhaps Washburn included it as an attempt at playful meta-theatricality, as Shipwreck carries little, if any, aspect of allusion. Soon we’re back to decrying Trump head-on in a tirade of high school debate club-style sermons. Personally, I loathe Trump, but even I was beginning to roll my eyes in the sheer incessancy of the verbal attack. Maybe this is the intended effect, that Washburn is mirroring back to us all of our self-indulgent, dull, righteous political inactivity.

Washburn is at her best when tackling politics and culture with her trademark surrealism. I adored Mr Burns in all its extravagance and the way it pushed the boundaries of low and high culture. The Twilight Zone similarly showed off a formal brilliance in terms of the possibilities of what theatre can be. Here, Washburn only gives the lightest of touches to this impish theatricality in a couple of stand-out scenes involving an action hero version of Trump, bedecked in superhero regalia, a golden lustre in lieu of his trademark tango permatan. Director Rupert Goold and Elliot Cowan (as the main man himself) clearly have a lot of fun in these scenes, parodying but not impersonating Trump, transforming him into a maniacal bond-villain during his interrogation of disgraced FBI Director, James Comey (Abdalla, again).

For all the protagonists’ humble-bragging and do-gooding, Shipwreck lacks diversity in its collective voice. Washburn does seem to acknowledge this when one character lambasts another for claiming to speak for ‘black people’. In an attempt to counter this, for want of a better word, ‘Whiteness’, the play is interspersed with the recollections and musings of Mark (Fisayo Akinade). Mark considers his upbringing as an African child adopted by white Americans. Feeling adrift from his white social and cultural surroundings and alienated from his African heritage, Mark often imagines life as a slave as a means of understanding the suffering and inherent disadvantages of racial distinction. These scenes are powerful, not least due to Akinade’s candid and unaffected performance, yet there remains, for me, a sense of unease regarding the exploration of race relations being issued from a white playwright.

Throughout, Mark’s scenes and those of the snow-stranded liberals seem unrelated, making the play feel disjointed and directionless. However, what I assume is supposed to be an ‘Ah, now I get it!’ moment, fell flat and didn’t seem to have the impact Washburn intended. The play remains aimless, plotless and only marginally entertaining. Aside from Mark, none of the characters feel at all sympathetic, which admittedly may be ‘the point’, but that doesn’t take away that fact we had to spend over three hours in their company. I could draw comparisons to Brecht in Washburn’s didactic lecturing, but Shipwreck failed to convince me of anything new and I feel that, unfortunately, as a rallying cry of rebellion against oppression, social media is a more productive facilitator of this in the modern age.

Shipwreck plays at the Almeida until 30th March.
Khalid Abdalla, Fisayo Akinade, Justine Mitchell and the cast of Shipwreck.
Credit: Marc Brenner.