Cavern – The Vaults
Reviewed – 18th February 2020
“not just funny but well-structured with a neat ending”
‘I’m vegan!’ blurts out white, wealthy Mai on first meeting black, broke Mo, an instant assertion of her right-headed and socially conscious credentials. To Mai, of course, Mo has no need for such credentials, so the two progress immediately to probing each other’s commitment to saving the planet and changing society. They declare their attendance at climate protests and refusal to take Ubers, except in exceptional circumstances. They abhor any organisations with questions hanging over their right-headedness and social conscience. As their relationship nervously moves through the gears, an arms race of committedness commences. They move into Mai’s inherited home, negotiate the minefield between their respective privilege and realism and wind up living the reductionist result of their posturing, existing indoors, without gas or electricity, eating chickpeas and chanting daily their promise to preserve the earth’s resources. Inevitably, the relationship frays, from about the moment they are forced to eat Mai’s pet goldfish.
The writer of Omelette, Anna Spearpoint, plays Mai with spot-on comic timing, as you might expect, while the promising Kwami Odoom adapts easily to the chippy interplay. The upshot is an unrelenting to and fro in which Mai’s habits, neuroses and ethical blind spots are matched with those of Mo in a stream of sparring, snogging, preaching and pledging.
Long Distance Theatre has its own pledge, to produce works that shake us while raising a smile. Anna Spearpoint’s script certainly does the latter, not just funny but well-structured with a neat ending. However, unclear which case it’s making, it doesn’t quite do the former. Our dietary threat to the planet, the contradictions of activism, the plight of the let-down-badly generation, or the death spiral of relationships all seem like good candidates. The zero-carbon nature of the production supports the idea that the play’s subject is climate anxiety, but as a snapshot of a generation desperately grasping security and meaning, it hints at something darker, helped by Tash Hyman’s direction. Wheeling round each other on a circular stage, the movement and precise lighting (Rajiv Pattani) dramatise the physical and intellectual dances the two characters must perform. Sound design (Alice Boyd) provides angsty links, slipping time forward in skips and leaps, while props appear mysteriously, indeed mystifyingly, via motorcycle-helmeted couriers (production design by Seren Noel). Accompanied by VAULT Festival’s own thundering train rumbles and dripping water, the whole ends up, like Mai and Mo themselves, a bit more apocalyptic than necessary.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Ali Wright