Finally, last week I had my first visit to the Almeida Theatre, I’ve been wanting to see pretty much everything that they do, but am never early enough and invariably it sells out. (Luckily a lot of it transfers to the West End, where I get to pay more money to sit further away – Chimerica, Ghosts, 1984 and the soon to open Charles III, that I really need to book.) Not this time, I booked this blindly. Or maybe not, but by the time I saw my calendar said Mr Burns (I put everything in my phone’s calendar, if I don’t, it will not happen, I was recently supposed to take my parents to the ballet for their anniversary, I’d put the wrong date in my calendar and missed it. Bad times.) all I remembered was the Simpsons connection.
First of all, the theatre is lovely and small, just the way I like it. It has a very nice looking bar that I didn’t have time to check out, but would certainly try to return to soon. We had excellent seats (yay for cheap under 30 tickets! Though having to show ID to prove that I am in fact under 30 was pretty sobering) and as soon as we were covered in darkness, the stage dimly lit by a fire, I was pretty sure I was going to like it. Mr Burns has been dividing critics, and perhaps understandingly, as it relies on the audience’s knowledge of one particular episode of the Simpsons and heavily borrows from pop culture in general. Without this knowledge, your experience would certainly be lacking.
I don’t want to reveal too much, but have you ever wondered what will happen to popular entertainment in a post apocalyptic world? There is a saturation of future, disaster and post disaster worlds in film and television, but this is the first time I’ve seen it in a play, which was exciting in itself, but it also tackled the subject matter from a new angle.
As the first act unfolds through the characters sitting around a fire, retelling an episode of The Simpsons, we learn a little about the sickness and nuclear disaster that killed most people. The world building is brief but great, I particularly enjoyed that each survivor keeps a list of the names of all the other survivors that they come across and there is a sort of ritual where they each check a list of their loved ones against everyone else’s lists, it’s an interesting tidbit that raise so many questions. I only wish there was more of these, as the details we are given are just barely enough to paint a broad picture, and in fact reduce as the play progresses. The attention is firmly set on the Simpsons story telling, which bonds a relative group of strangers and gives them a sense of momentary comfort.
Act II, which is set seven years later, was my favourite as you see that our characters have learned to live in this new world without electricity, by forming a theatre group largely performing reconstructions of Simpsons episodes, paying their audience for ‘remembered’ lines. Most of the action is of the group rehearsing for their show and includes a hilarious medley of pop songs.
The third act was perhaps a bit too long, almost to the point of self indulgence, as its point about the transformation of a story could have been made in half the time, but I am willing to forgive that as the costumes were so beautiful and I really liked the music and the performances.