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Mission Drift

The National Theatre Shed hosts the TEAM's latest show, told through 'atomic blasts, lizard ballet, and original music that fuses Vegas glitz with Southern blues'

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Libby King (Cataline Rapalje) and Brian Kastert (Joris Rapalje)
© Robert Day

The TEAM - Theatre of the Emerging American Movement - had quite a few cheerleaders at the Edinburgh Festival fringe two years ago, and now we know why: this is a riotous and wickedly enjoyable fable of the creation and destruction of the American Dream in Las Vegas.

In this case, the dream in this group-authored piece is of casinos and night-spots on The Strip. Having started with a story of an unemployed waitress (cursing the business magnate Steve Wynn and all his works) and a homeless Native American, the show suddenly weaves in the adventures of 17th century Dutch immigrant pilgrims who evolve into the bad boys of capitalism.

And it's all glued together with the most tremendous rock and blues songs by Heather Christian who bounces up and down from her grand piano as Miss Atomic in various guises, predominantly a cynical chorus. Her name is an echo of the nuclear tests in the desert, which run parallel to the history of neon signs now piling up in a boneyard museum.

Rachel Chavkin's production for the Brooklyn-based ensemble (which is co-produced by the Almeida, Performance Space 122 and Culturgest) sits very well in The Shed, the National's temporary theatre while the Cottesloe is refurbished, and enhances the venue's propensity, following Tanya Ronder's Table, for sustaining narrative across generations.

And it suits the energy and informality of the piece, too, which in itself suggests a vituperative, alternative musical post-script to the inflated big occasion show business turns of Frank Sinatra, Elvis and Celine Dion. The stage area is littered with tufts of grass, water bottles, detritus and chairs; when three of the cast sit on them, they can claim to have just invented the sofa.

The explosive, dynamic Christian is accompanied by Spencer Cohen on drums and Jon Anderson on steel guitar and keyboard, underscoring the powerful performances of Libby King and Brian Hastert as the century-encompassing Dutch couple Catalina and Joris Rapalje who, in real life, spawned eleven children and are said to have generated a million descendants.

Amber Gray and Ian Lassiter play the indigenous couple, the first particularly good at expressing a sense of let-down and loss as her desert dream evaporates in the mock-Biblical superficiality of the Ark, the indoor forests, the animatronic buffalo and the underwater slot machines. This is how the mission drifted from pioneering to buccaneering. Viva Las Vegas?


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