You have to wonder. Fifty minutes into the heaving swell of International Waters when we’re all dramatically well and truly cast off, the fire alarm lights flash red and the theatre is evacuated. It has to be a Fire Exit production. And the prime minister announces that there will be no fire sale of the UK’s steel industry but it could still all go down the pan; which is pretty much where David Leddy’s new play takes us. It’s gut-churning with intent, from programme-as-origami downwards. This is theatre in the raw; its passage probably indigestible without great work by Becky Minto (Design), Nich Smith (Lighting) and Danny Krass (Sound).
For the U-bend see a cabin suite for the super-rich in the bowels of a super-tanker, complete with champagne buffet and karaoke machine. Cheaper accommodation is in assorted containers where you might be stacked next to a tiger or two. It is all rather make-do, rather urgent, for this is the last ship out of London where the banks have really, really, done their mucky worst. It’s safe to assume that the ATMs are empty and that the poor are on the streets and burning porsches. Still, if you have shedloads of ready money you can look good in white linen, enjoy the Moët, do a line of coke, and singalong to doomsday. Unfortunately it turns out that Sarah, Ben, Sophia, and Arian are in the Caliban suite for a less than delightful reason and that their ‘escape’ will end wretchedly. There’s no mage on the bridge to save them or to get them away from each other’s throats … or crotches.
Down below, gripped by burning cabin fever and flushing itself out, is the fabled 1%: powerful and greedy, vulnerable and unhappy. Sarah (Claire Dargo), Ben (Robin Laing), Sophia (Selina Boyack), and Arian (Lesley Hart) go at it with astonishing abandon, pulling each other’s chains – just to stay with the scatological – and soiling themselves and their values in the process. It’s abject, messy, and ridiculous and yet the acutely angled and allusive content is almost edifying.
Leddy unships a bulk load of issues: rogue algorithms, flagrant wealth, economic migrants, drowned refugees; the paranoid survivalist versus the self-obsessed, #Blessed; Twitter storms, Old Testament retribution and the gospel strains of New Testament promise. This is one crowded ark of a stage, freighted with ideas, that spills more than it holds, deliberately upset by intemperate behaviour, bad language, and scary discordant sound. If the play is dead in the water at its conclusion, it’s not rudderless or overblown, but simply exhausted.
FYI. The show continued after the fire alarm, which says a lot about the quality of the performance and the unlikely integrity of the piece. It is preposterous and explicitly farcical, yet Leddy goes in behind the theatrical facade. He says (see programme note) that he’s also after the romantic sublime. Well, here’s Adele on a comparable course from Rolling in the Deep: “Go ‘head and sell me out and I’ll lay your shit bare.” Nice!
Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 30 March)
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