You would have thought that there’s got to be some positivity, surely, in a show called You Can Survive The End of Days, particularly when a voiceover starts speaking some uplifting, if religious-based, words that are seemingly encouraging, at least at face value. These are very quickly replaced, though, by more sinister undertones in the form of public service broadcasts, declaring a state of emergency.
Quite what has happened for (a hypothetical) Britain to end up in this situation is not fully explained; my own imagination would put it down to a scenario where Trident was scrapped, and no equivalent nuclear deterrent put in its place, leaving the country vulnerable, with disastrous consequences. I leave it to others who see this show to suggest their own theories.
Anyway, Jonah (Maximillian Hooper) and Sam (Robert Maksymowicz) must somehow leave the country; the anti-immigration lobby (if there are any of them left) are living in a utopia for them, as the borders by land, sea and air have (again, somehow being the operative word) been completely sealed. But any frustration with the lack of detail in the script is more than outweighed by a) some absorbing acting, b) a plot that became increasingly intriguing as it progressed and c) sublime blank verse and rhyming couplets, which said so much more than simple prose would have done, and more profoundly, but using fewer words.
To begin with, the show is a slow-burner, and there was a moment when I thought I might succumb to escaping this dystopia myself by entering the Land of Nod. When Jonah shouts “Come on!” at Sam, it was – I hope this isn’t too harsh – a metaphor for the show at that point. In the end, though, I stayed very much awake and alert to the end, mostly thanks to the twists and turns in the duo’s journey.
Performed in the round, other audience members’ reactions to certain, ahem, events provided an unexpected extra layer of entertainment.
As might be expected, however, there aren’t just two survivors of The Big Event. The Man (Duncan Hendry), a charismatic figure who I shall mostly leave as a nameless enigma for fear of giving too much away, proves a skilled and cunning adversary for our pair. Elsewhere, there are relatable details of landmarks along the Chatham Main Line, and overall, the whole thing is remarkably plausible.
Even in such dismal circumstances, the show managed to put a smile on my face at times. An irrational situation leads, y’see, to irrational behaviour, and fleeting seconds of humour provide, in the original meaning of the term, comic relief. The ending, while suitably chaotic with gripping confrontations, wasn’t quite what I was expecting – a good thing in this case, as it meant the conclusion was far from predictable.
While slightly exhausting, this was a full and satisfying experience from the Aelfa Centauri Theatre Company, who don’t do things by halves – I caught a previous production of theirs last year, where the silliness was off the scale.
Here, it’s the bleakness that’s immeasurable. There’s a lot of food for thought in this play (well, there’s a fair amount of food in this play, come to think of it), and a decent exploration of how a long-standing friendship can be strengthened even as it is being strained.
Review by Chris Omaweng
You Can Survive The End Of Days
In 1961, one Col. Mel Mawrence of the United States Army wrote a book on how to survive nuclear fallout called “You Can Survive the Bomb”; 70 years later no such guide was available when the British Isles was put under an indefinite quarantine. If there were reasons for such a drastic measure, I’m sure some would have come to light by now. At the time they were crying “The End is Nigh”, but after 22 months and millions of lives wasted, the voices of woe have all but ceased, instead an ominous silence fills the air. It’s getting desperate for everyone, it’s dog eat dog, you never know who’s lurking around the next corner. But tonight we’re getting out, escaping, and no one will stop us.
You Can Survive The End Of Days
March 9 :8:00 pm – March 11 :10:00 pm