Review Roundup: MR. BURNS at The Almeida
The Almeida's production of Anne Washburn's MR. BURNS opened to mixed reviews. Let's see what the critics had to say:
Michael Coveney of whatsonstage.com: In the second act, which is a total theatrical blast, the group have formed themselves, seven years later, into one of several television programme and advertising companies, starting again with basic narrative adverts and a recreation, in crude theatrical terms, of The Simpsons. They are fighting off rivals, and each other, with basic technology and a squabble over the national drought of good new lines, a shrinking market.
Michael Billington of the Guardian: It is certainly a strange show. The first part is played in penumbral darkness: the last part, with a score by Orlando Gough and Michael Henry, lapses into a semi-ironic optimism. But I was never bored and Robert Icke's production does justice to the material: it is especially good in the second act where people cling to memories of everything from chablis to Diet Coke to establish a connection to a pre-apocalypse world.
Dominic Cavendish of the Telegraph: 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. The intrusion of an outsider called Gibson - who bears bleak tidings after a lonely cross-country odyssey - neatly turns the mood from fragile levity to woebegone darkness as if at the flick of a switch. Sadly, though, the rest of the evening doesn't live up to its promising start or premise.
Kate Bassett of the Times: 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.
Mark Shenton of The Stage: "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. Anne Washburn's play, with its constant references to pop culture, depends on an audience primed and prepped for provocation and preferably an intimate working knowledge of the famous 1993 episode, Cape Feare, of The Simpsons it recreates, in which Sideshow Bob tries to kill Bart Simpson.
Andrzej Lukowski of Time Out: It's an odd but compelling set-up: the 40-minute act could almost be a stoner comedy, as this band of misfits - all of them subdued and nervous apart from Adrian der Gregorian's Matt, who is loud and nervous - stumble and bicker over the exact details of the plot, while various asides and divergences fill us in on the horrors that have taken place away from this cosy fire.