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Protect and Survive by Michael Ross at The Vault Festival 2016 – Review

Protect and SurviveMy Friday evening at the Vaults Festival began with an ushering towards the front row of the pit. A gestured nod gave me no choice and I was swiftly shuffled to the end of a row, into the only restricted-view seat in the house. Excited by the expectation of a sold out performance, you can imagine my dismay at the staging, which used all the space in the auditorium to perform for an audience of just eighteen.

Director Andrew Pritchard decided to extend his end-on staging with the use of the aisle, in addition to having some speech delivered from the back of the pit. This was accompanied with intense lighting which, for most of the show, lit the entire house. With an attempt at naturalism, I’m convinced this exposure broke any emotional opportunity for me to feel anything for the characters.

Pre-show consisted of Kirsty (Carla Rose) listening to Video Killed the Radio Star, setting the era of the 1980’s. It’s one of those songs I can only enjoy after a few drinks, and sadly the intoxication didn’t occur until the end of my evening.

‘Protect and Survive’ was a government instruction for how to respond in the event of an apocalyptic disaster. This Protect and Survive took Hampstead born-and-bred brother and sister, Kirsty and Charlie (Josh Husselbee), and expelled them into the country, where they were taken to a secret underground bunker by a country boy named Jack (Karl Mercer). The second half of the plot took such a random turn; I didn’t know whether to laugh or leave. Stuck in the front row, in addition to personal principles, I stayed put. Kudos to the lighting designer – uncredited in the programme info, so presumably the director – the house lighting allowed me to check with the reactions of others that we were all enduring the same performance. I can confirm: We were!

The writing had some thought-provoking lines and I could understand the ideas behind the plot and structure; however, it was just too underdeveloped. Ideas were thrown from all points of the compass, none of which really tied up and some which were never touched upon again: a character accused of being a holocaust denier, for example. An unexpected twist came so unexpectedly, that Mercer himself didn’t seem to know how to respond. He displayed an odd contrast of nervous shaking and unsettling confidence. He was probably just as confused as the audience.

Rose presented a challenging interpretation of her character which caused her to lack any real connection with the context or what she was saying. I think it’s a real shame, as I’m sure she could shine in parts suited to her style; an odd casting choice to say the least. Husselbee gave some literally unbelievable reactions, including a very funny ‘Oh no!’, which sounded more whodunnit-melodrama than a naturalistic-realism.

Michael Ross’ writing has been described as ‘fun, sparky and full of ideas’ (The Stage). Well, this was certainly over-loaded with ideas, but I think his spark must have tripped a fuse on this one. Despite a fast-paced performance (A thank you to Pritchard for this!), there was ultimately a lack of focus and a whirlwind of half-formed ideas. I will admit I have little knowledge of the context of this period, so perhaps this just wasn’t for me.

2 gold stars

Review by Joseph Winer

“Impress you? I just want to see the furry bastard die, that’s all. I want to see ickle Bright Eyes writhe in pain and abject misery. Jesus, I’ve seen much worse than bunnies dying, you know. Much worse.

England, 1984. The Cold War casts a shadow across the country.
Taking its title from the British government’s public information booklet about what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, ‘Protect and Survive’ is set amidst the apocalyptic hysteria of the early 1980s. Jack, the son of a local farmer, lives with the knowledge of a secret government facility hidden deep beneath his family’s farm. One summer’s day he meets Kirsty, a young girl who has recently arrived in the village from London with her brother Charlie, and their widower father. Jack tells Kirsty about the bunker and invites her and Charlie to explore it, the three embarking on a dangerous journey that uncovers entombed guilt, grief and sexual desires. Buried deep underground, not everyone survives.

2nd to 6th March 2016
http://www.vaultfestival.com/

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