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How to Survive an Apocalypse at Finborough Theatre | Review

Great acting and some zinging one-liners have me laughing out loud, but in the end, can’t save a script that doesn’t feel built on solid foundations.

L-R Ben Lamb, Noel Sullivan, Kristin Atherton & Christine Gomes - How To Survive An Apocalypse - Finborough Theatre - Photos by Sam Taylor .
L-R Ben Lamb, Noel Sullivan, Kristin Atherton & Christine Gomes – How To Survive An Apocalypse – Finborough Theatre – Photos by Sam Taylor

How to Survive an Apocalypse begins with editor Jen (Kristin Atherton) struggling with her lifestyle magazine about to fail. The board parachutes in alpha male consultant, Bruce (Ben Lamb) to save it. Instead, his presence reveals Jen’s doubts about her marriage to steady-but-feeble Tim (Noel Sullivan). Jen’s high school best friend, Abby (Christine Gomes), completes our quartet of competing millennials, having left her husband to whom she was a trophy wife.

Cracks in the narrative begin with the (feared) apocalypse of the title. Supposed to believe Jen is becoming obsessed with survival prepping, I just didn’t. Perhaps it’s living in the shadow of what felt like a world-stopping event, but the hollowness of their imagination shines brightly. Written and first performed in 2016, rather than being prophetic, the play is a remarkable time capsule of what people thought would be needed to survive. When Bruce boasts, ‘I can build a cabin with nothing but a sharp rock,’ sure, it sounds manly, but can he make a three-layer mask from a t-shirt, coffee filter and blade of grass?

It was great to be transported to Western Canada after a year when we couldn’t travel there by conventional means. Ceci Calf’s staging, in the small but perfectly-formed Finborough Theatre, made the most of the space, a curved wood canopy elegantly evoking in turn living room, cocktail bar and forest.

None of this is to diminish the performances. Atherton’s Jen stood out for me – achingly cool, but struggling to keep up with the pace of her own life. Lamb’s raw presence dripped testosterone from his broad shoulders in a way that defied anatomy. As a dinner-party play (which is surely a genre in its own right), the acting carried this through. But this only made it difficult to reconcile the real-world and virtual survival themes, which seemed tangential to the real questions posed: can Jen keep her job and her integrity? Is a steady husband a better bet than the raw-bear-meat-in-a-suit? Will Abby find her balance, and will Tim ever find a job?

By its third act, the play falls between two stools: not a biting-enough examination of how we live now to stand out at a time when we may have done too much facing down the end of the world, rather than too little; but also not a convincing-enough relationship study to ground us while normal life continues. It was a fun, and (unexpectedly) diverting evening, but not one that will stay with me.

3 Star Review

Review by Ben Ross

You start planning for the end and you have to start thinking – if you wind up trapped in a 300 square foot fallout shelter, is this really the guy you want to see every day?

A romantic comedy for the end of days.

Jen and Tim are a young and successful millennial couple who become convinced that their urban party lifestyle is coming to an end. They start preparing for the end, hoarding supplies and learning to hunt. But their obsession takes its toll, and both are forced to imagine the apocalypse without the love of their life.

A tender, hilarious, and touching story about dreams, love and the desire to survive.

Noel Sullivan, Ben Lamb, Kristin Atherton and Christine Gomes star in the UK premiere of Jordan Hall’s hit comedy How to Survive an Apocalypse. The play is at Finborough Theatre, directed by Jimmy Walters for a four-week limited season, running from Tuesday 28 September – 23 October 2021.

How To Survive An Apocalypse, presented by Proud Haddock in association with Finborough Theatre, has design by Ceci Calf, lighting by Adam King and music and sound by Julian Starr. Further casting will be announced in due course.

LISTINGS
HOW TO SURVIVE AN APOCALYPSE
FINBOROUGH THEATRE
Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED
28 SEPTEMBER –23 OCTOBER 2021
https://finboroughtheatre.co.uk/

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