Review – X – Royal Court

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I really enjoyed Alistair McDowall’s Pomona, a delicious yet imperfect horror play that posited that no transdimensional monster could be as terrifying as the evil within the human heart. So I was excited to see that he was taking on the science fiction world with his new play, X, set at some point in the future on the planet Pluto, where the earth’s outpost has suddenly been cut off from home.

X delivered drama hand over fist, choosing wisely to focus on the human impacts of extreme circumstances; of removal from human society; of removal from belief in a future; of removal from the underpinnings that cluster together to keep us sane. With these bits and pieces extracted slowly from the cluster of people living together for what increasingly begins to feel like forever, how would they react? How would they treat each other? Could they even survive? Would they want to? But in addition to a compelling narrative, there was something I didn’t expect from this play: a fantastic approach to the conundrum of living in a world of dwindling resources. I can’t even be bothered to go to plays about climate change any more because they are such uniform failures as works of drama, but McDowall made a man playing bird calls the core of a scene that could raise tears in its simple sadness.

To make everything more fun, McDowall has added in time shifts …. jarring at first but extremely absorbable if you’re used to the genre … and then made the protagonist “unreliable.” To some extent it makes this play a bit more of a psycho-thriller; but what it really means is that we, the audience, are forced to constantly question what the “real” narrative is. This questioning continues long after the show is over.

So what does all this playwriterly tricksteriness mean? It means that I just had a really f**king good night at the theater. My companion and I were, in fact, jumping up and down with excitement about what a really good play we had just seen. And because it was a play, and not a book or a movie, the warping of convention was not just unexpected by truly remarkable. Sign me up for McDowall’s next play: I think I’m officially a fan.

(This review is for a performance that took place on April 18th, 2016. It continues through May 7th. Bless the Royal Court and their £10 Mondays – it means so many more people that ought to see this show are going to be able to afford it.)

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