Outside & Fallout, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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by Laura Kressly

With the world as it is, it’s fair to feel like the apocalypse is coming and there’s nothing us powerless citizens can do about it. In that context, making a show about how we’re all doomed seems a rather reasonable response. Doom and gloom shows are a dime a dozen at the fringe, and these two address a particular brand of disaster with varying results.

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Party Skills for the End of the World, Shoreditch Town Hall

Image result for party skills for the end of the world

by Laura Kressly

A make-your-own martini and a raffle for a gorilla novelty teapot is a great way to start a show. A massive game of musical chairs is a great way to continue it. And a fair of DIY, crafts and skills workshops is a blinding way to end it.

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Living A Little, VAULT Festival


Rob and Paul are best mates, albeit total polar opposites. They share a cozy bachelor pad where they engage in typical mid-20s, male behaviour – drinking, weight lifting, discussing women in graphic detail and fighting off zombies. Well into the zombie apocalypse, the lads lucked out – solar panels and generators keep them in heat and electricity, and they secured their block of flats so the undead can’t get in. But when a masked intruder turns up, their groove is properly disrupted. Dark comedy Living A Little is a post-apocalyptic genre mashup that’s polished and unexpectedly poignant.

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Human Animals, Royal Court


I adore animals, certainly more than I like humans, and I think I missed my calling to be a zookeeper or conservationist. I can’t bear any depiction of animals being harmed on stage or film; even mentions of animal abuse is hugely upsetting. So, I found Stef Smith’s Human Animals a pretty horrible ordeal. Smith’s frantic, apocalyptic story captures society’s instinctive, “Must. Destroy. Everything.” response to the natural world threatening contemporary human sovereignty. As the government wreaks havoc on the natural world in the name of security, half a dozen civilians have a range of reactions to the animal population’s invasion of their homes. This visceral, destabilising drama blasts the audience with 75 minutes of shocking, reactive action as the infection spreads across species, but with the fast pace and constant suspense, it’s difficult to relate to any of the characters. Canny design avoids much mess and graphic depictions of the described carnage, but the narrated horror is all too easy enough to imagine from most modern nations, and his highly disturbing on several levels.

Lisa (Lisa McGrills) and Jamie (Ashley Zhangazha) are a young couple supposedly very much in love, though lacking chemistry. Lisa doesn’t like animals much, so isn’t fazed when the government starts killing off the wild ones who are trying to invade people’s homes. She’s had enough of birds smashing into her windows and either dying or injuring themselves. Jamie can’t handle the ruthless killing; his collapse is well written and convincingly performed. Lisa’s boss Si (Sargon Yelda) is one of “them”, a vile, slimy little man profiting from the disaster. Young activist Alex (Natalie Dew) has just returned from travelling abroad, but mum Nancy (Stella Gonet) still tries to treat her as a child. There’s a lot of gorgeous intimacy and tension between them, often diffused by their genial family friend John (Ian Gelder), who clashes with Si regularly in the local boozer. Otherwise, there is little contact between these conflicting personalities, but the reactions from each character to the growing destruction are heartfelt and saddening.

Smith’s best writing is her conflict scenes between the characters. The rest certainly isn’t bad at all, but the storyline requires either depicting the violent extermination of animals or copious narration. Her choice is understandable and, though well incorporated into natural dialogue, there’s a lot of describing. The design team (Camilla Clarke, Lizzie Powell and Mark Melville) work with director Hamish Pirie to break up the text effectively, with sound, lighting, projection and jets of paint constantly interrupting and surprising/startling the audience. Being constantly kept on edge for over an hour is exhausting, with the story causing additional trauma. As horrible as it is, the whole effect is intricately constructed and totes a powerful message.

Also of note is the set design. The cast and audience are inside a zoo-style animal enclosure, disempowering the characters and trivialising their problems because the outside world is dominant and ever watching. Though the set does not literally indicate the characters’ world and gives no hints of the government-ordered extermination and arson that they describe, its tranquillity is calmly sinister.

The production elements and dialogue are excellent, through the relentlessness of Human Animals can alienate – but that’s the point. It’s terrible, clever commentary on contemporary environmentalism, fear of social disorder and individuals’ reactions to what is effectively a civil war and its strong effect will be long remembered by this animal lover.

Human Animals runs through 18 June.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.


How To Survive a Swarm of Bees, Bread & Roses Theatre

The heaps of white pillows that cover most of the stage make How To Survive a Swarm of Bees look like a slumber party or a kids’ fort, something with a lot of fun and giggles. But Anna Crace’s short play is far from the happy cuddliness implied by the set. With a Scandi aesthetic in both design and dialogue, this austere piece of new writing gives little away except for the looming apocalypse Of a massive storm and a swarm of bees that threatens the existence of two young couples barricaded into their homes. The minimalist text bears more than a passing resemblance to Beckett, but it’s so sparse that there isn’t much depth or substance despite the interesting premise.

The unnamed hetero couples in their early 20s live separately, but their lives and conflicts parallel each other in the moment. Rather than the somewhat disappointing story, the most interesting feature is the intertwining scenes where the characters occasionally swap partners (not that way, pervert) without acknowledging the change. The device is gently disorientating, aiding the distance from reality that creates a state of reflection in the audience. These four are Every Men in the face of a crisis, with fear, anxiety and need that manifest in four different ways. We can relate to them all, but know they are not of our world.

The lack of action and a threadbare story is frustrating, through. The only thing the four do is talk around the problem and argue, and shift pillows around in their confinement. What exactly is going on in the world? Disappearing news broadcasters and friends choosing to live underground are never fully explained. Why is the world reacting so strongly to a storm? Why are these couples fighting about staying in their homes with the buzzing growing ever louder? They allude to consequences of nature creeping into the house and “the nets” failing, but what are these consequences? It’s never revealed, but easily could be by lengthening this script by another twenty minutes or so.

There is some distinction between the different characters, but other than Laurie Ogden’s agoraphobic young woman, the rest are very similar. Should we stay or go? How long can we realistically eat the soup we’ve stockpiled? How will our relationship hold up with our choice? What do we do if one stays and the other leaves? These questions are debated, but never really answered. The end of the play is abrupt and feels like an interval; some audience hang around for a while and then, confused, head into the night.

The four performances are fine, but tend towards minimalist reflection as well. Though inherently theatrical in structure, elements of this script would be great for telly. The intimacy works well in small fringe theatres, but would most likely come across as flat anywhere larger.

Anna Crace is certainly onto some interesting ideas and design concepts in How To Survive a Swarm of Bees, but the need further development and clearer means of communication.

How To Survive a Swarm of Bees runs until 20th March.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.