The Visual Collective (formerly known as Press Play House), Bethnal Green
"Who is Moloch? It doesn't matter. Your imagination will scare you shitless no matter what." Major Benjamin Fuller's (Austin Caley) last words sum up how audiences will likely feel: Who is Moloch? We don't have a clue, but we are definitely scared shitless.
Written by Pamela Carralero, this showpresents a very bleak look at the future of our world: a Third World War that wipes out nearly all living and non-living things, driving those who are left to hunker underground and wait for death.
The play delves into a lot of heavily-researched areas; for example, the use of psychoactive drugs on soldiers, and the treatment methods studied to help soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The director, Zuri Warren, says “WWIII is a genuine possibility, especially in the wake of potential triggers in our recent history, such as the Cold War, the September 11 attacks and the July 7 bombings. This is our version of that possibility becoming a reality and a dream that endeavors to make that reality bearable.”
Right away, it's very clear that there is something more to these soldiers than meets the eye. With the stereotypical twitches and quirks associated with drug addicts, it's clear these people are suffering, and in the opening scene we see how poorly they react to anything new.
The new member of the squadron, Airman First Class Graham Maynard (Jonathan Whittaker), introduces the soldiers to the world of Shakespeare and acting, but it's almost as if they aren’t human. The regimented lifestyle of the military is all they have left; no personality, and hardly a sense of humanity at all.
There's no shortage of shock value: hidden military secrets, the inhumane treatment of soldiers, a jarring amount of screaming and horror, and even the haunting writing on wall provoked a lingering sense of fear. Civilian Areena Louis (Tara Postman) poignantly tells the commanding officer that of all the things that should be preserved from history it is Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, a story in which all the characters are consumed by their dreams, and when they wake, everyone lives happily ever after.
However in these soldiers’ dreams there is not love or happily ever after but Moloch, waiting to consume them as they sleep. And the only way to escape is through Dreamscape, the sleep-mimicking drug making soldiers unhealthily addicted and evoking a moral question for everyone involved: Is this lethal drug worth taking, if it provides the best relief from this suffering?
While there's a lot of material to digest, there are very few moments that allow you to stop and think. The reliance on the horror and shock value of the content is overwhelming at times, especially in the tiny confines of the space - so the frequent loud screams and shouts become very off-putting (especially when you’re in the first row out of three).
This being said, the technical elements are strong. It's hard to make an intricate set and lighting plot in a space this small, but designer Samuel Harman pulls it off. And the soundscape is fitting, particularly the reflection of actors’ voices while they're off-stage (composer Alex Burnett is selling his scores outside the venue and it's well worth the listen).
Who is Moloch? raises a lot of questions, the title included, but the shock-and-awe tactics employed make it a distracting and distancing experience.