If ever a show signalled generational difference it is Mr Burns. Either you `get it’ or you are lost.
That’s because American writer, Anne Washburn has built her apocalyptic fantasy around none other than The Simpsons. Thanks to my browser, I now know that Mr Burns is the `owner of Springfield nuclear energy plant.’
The significance of this may not be immediately apparent to some but I can now reveal that Washburn’s play begins in a post-nuclear world. There has been an incident somewhere around Boston. The balloon, as they used to say in old parlance, has gone up. Now survivors sit huddled around a fire in Robert Icke’s stygian gloom and comfort themselves – indecipherably to some – with quotes from the Cape Feare episode of The Simpsons.
This much I know, or gleaned. Next in Act II we watch whilst another (or same?) group of survivors create a tv ad peppered with Simpson references in what look to be very reduced circumstances, in a `method’ style and much `in’ acting jokes.
Finally in Act III, we witness what may be an `epilogue’: part operetta, part Hair for today with echoes of Gilbert & Sullivan and Greek mythology.
Stylistically it’s a knock-out, a Rocky Horror Show for today with a terrifying Frankenfurter/John Malkovich lookalike in the ascendant (Mr Burns?), gold-laméd ghoul masks and a remarkable percussive score.
Still based around Bart Simpson, I think it was about Bart enduring. Survival. But I can’t be entirely sure. The programme tells us the whole thing was to do with memory and storytelling as tools of identity (see also Nick Payne’s recent Incognito)
and the melding of high and low culture..
As I sat in bewilderment at the show’s cultural references, to my left a Simpson fan was left none the wiser whilst behind me, a reviewing website colleague was being thrilled to his core. At the end, it triggered the liveliest debate I’ve ever experienced at the Almeida. Now, isn’t that exactly what theatre is supposed to do?
Love it or hate it, Icke’s production and its cast are amazing. Rupert Goold’s Almeida, you have to say, is never dull.