Ugly Duck, London – until 14 May 2017
Imagine a production of Waiting for Godot with more characters, set in space, where the audience chooses the outcome of the story. What you are picturing is probably gloriously weird and kitschy. But now add clumsy dialogue, some poor performances and a loosely applied Brexit analogy, performed on a set that looks like it’s built of cardboard and/or they ran out of paint. If your mind’s eye makes a different picture now, it be more accurate.
The audience are the citizens of ProxC, a spaceship (or possibly a planet?) run by a dictatorial administration who exile people that break their strict laws. On board an old ship that will travel 10 years before reaching their destination ProxB, there’s a murderer, a thief, a drug dealer, a sex worker, a woman who got pregnant without government permission, a schoolboy hacker and a few others. After some naff sci-fi sound effects that seem like they were nicked from shit ’80s films, the ship’s launch stalls indefinitely. A robotic voiceover tells us that we will decide if it goes ahead or the criminals on board will be allowed to return.
What follows in an hour or so of argumentative waiting that paints a basic picture of each of these captives. There are ten of them – too many to be developed significantly, and considering they’re meeting each other for the first time, their conversation is generally superficial smalltalk and playing games to pass the time. The little conflicts that arise are borne from some wanting to stay and some wanting to leave – generally determined by whether or not they have someone on ProxC they’re leaving behind. There is no singular narrative thread or climax; the script is propped up by the uncertainty of the outcome rather than its own integrity. It’s basically scripted reality TV lacking in any sort of sophisticated storytelling or dramaturgy.
There are a few notable performances – Sofia Greenacre as Imogen is sly and manipulative, giving away just enough information to stay interesting. Ben Kaolack’s Piers wears his heart on his sleeve for his daughter and begs the unseen audience to save him. Some of the performers are clearly telly trained or with little stage experience, and are way too quiet for the space. The only plus is the diversity in the cast.
The programme notes emphasise the audience vote and its power to have real influence in the hope to motivate us to register in time for the upcoming general election. Whilst that’s true within the format, the story is so far removed from real life that any sense of correlation is lost. After the votes are counted there’s a short scene that wraps things up, but there’s no real sense of the vote’s consequences. It’s potentially an interesting concept, but the execution is so poor that it’s impossible to take any intentions seriously.