Mr Burns divides the critics
The Almeida's production of Anne Washburn's 'post-electric' play, which sees a group of apocalypse survivors attempt to recreate an episode of The Simpsons, was either 'brilliantly inventive' or 'excruciating'
… This will be the wildest, wackiest show of the year, no contest; it's also a brilliantly inventive and engaging production by Goold's associate, Robert Icke, an epic triptych of futuristic cultural recovery in the wake of a nuclear plant disaster on the East coast of America, with songs … The progress of the play is from the dark of disaster to the full-on fairy lights and electric funfair of what I take to be the tragedy of cultural retrieval, and the orgiastic qualities of theatre … The best compliment you can pay the outstanding cast of eight - Justine Mitchell, Jenna Russell, Annabel Scholey, Wunmi Mosaku, Adey Grummet, Adrian der Gregorian, Demetri Goritsas, Michael Shaeffer - is that they do not appear to be wearing robes borrowed from the improvisatory originators of the piece across the ocean.
Strange but never boring, this post-apocalyptic fantasy suggests US TV comedy will be the last relic of western civilisation … Clearly Washburn is on to something in suggesting that, in the event of some future catastrophe, people would cling to their recollections of TV shows rather than Shakespeare or the Bible. But her play also suffers from its reliance on one particular episode of a cartoon comedy … In the end, it feels like a cult show; one that will primarily appeal to Simpsons addicts. But, while it raises valid questions about what will endure after a future disaster, I find it a melancholy thought that art, architecture and literature may perish in the collective memory but a popular TV show will be the last relic of western civilisation.
Washburn's main interest lies in the way an apparently trivial item of popular culture can assume profound significance at a time of crisis and trauma. This first act smartly generates a precarious sense of faux-normalcy that's constantly interrupted with sinister sounds in the nocturnal woods that lie around the huddled civilians … Sadly, though, the rest of the evening doesn't live up to its promising start or premise … Yet the basic plausibility of their preoccupation with Simpsons-related minutiae feels stretched, and the characterisation remains at a two-dimensional level... Makes you think, yes, but makes you feel? Eat my shorts!
If you don't watch The Simpsons, you may be lost... Intended to be comical but also edgy and culturally anxious, it's set in the not-too-distant-future after an apocalyptic disaster has struck the US... The problem is the post-modern games that Washburn is playing - all the meta-theatrics and story-retelling - aren't remotely engaging. If you're not a Simpsons' fan you may well be both bemused and bored. That said, director Robert Icke's cast shine out, giving fine and game performances... The opening scene, around the brazier, has quiet menace and some charming humour, with Mitchell and der Gregorian capturing the conversational hesitations of people striving to remember facts with wonderful naturalism... But if Washburn's script is ever revived, come the apocalypse, it won't shed light on anything.
It is probably not a good sign that Mr Burns is subtitled "a post-electric play". That meaningless note of perversity duly pervades the evening which is played out in three increasingly excruciating, infuriating acts... By the time they stage a third act version of it as a kind of operetta, I'd lost the will to live, and can only hope that if this is the future of theatre after the apocalypse, I'd rather not survive it myself... "It's that fine line between tantalization and torture," says one character of the piece they are creating in the middle act. I couldn't put it better myself... Icke's production provides little help for those who aren't, but his cast manage to keep it all animated in the face of considerable adversity, not to mention perversity.
Bear Grylls would be so pissed off: in US playwright Anne Washburn's bracingly idiosyncratic play, the survivors of a non-specific North American apocalypse don't salvage food or weapons from the rubble, but culture... Mr Burns is divided into three interlinked but drastically contrasting sequences... It's an odd but compelling set-up... Washington's play is pretty out there in many respects, but each scenario is beautifully realised, and it presents a compelling query: faced with uncertainty, would we salvage what's 'important' for the human race? Or what comforts us? And is there really a difference? Director Robert Icke wisely keeps things as naturalistic as possible within the escalatingly batshit confines of the text, and there are beautiful, frail performances from a fine ensemble.
Mr Burns continues at the Almeida until 26 July 2014