The New End Theatre presents
Written by Dr Barry Peters
Directed by Oliva Rowe
New End Theatre
1 Feb - 6 Mar 2011
A review by Richard J Thornton
A Rude Awakening is a gaudy and ramshackle sci-fi social comedy which proves that any theatrical concept can succeed as long as it doesn't take itself too seriously. This show is so close to being shallow, nonsensical and impotent that it spins full circle into a jaw-dropping, mesmerising and hugely entertaining piece of fast-paced theatre which leaves you gaping at every plot twist, and shocked into a fresh appreciation of tongue-in-cheek drama.
It's 2010, and Tom Holdsworth, ingeniously depicted by Jonathan Woodward, is all set to become State Governor of an unspecified southern US state with the help of the ambitious, tortured and gay, Bobby Honeywell. After a prophetic dream from the mysterious political sage, Sisley, Tom kicks Bobby off the campaign in the worry that his sexuality will cause bad PR, just before the pair die in an off-stage car crash.
Fast forward 160 years, it's 2170, and Tom and Bobby's cryogenically frozen bodies have been resuscitated into a society where homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuality is frowned upon and near-illegal. Bobby adjusts, Tom struggles, and the former decides to run for governor himself, leaving Tom to battle the new homosexual 'normality'.
There's some great acting, accentuated by director Oliva Rowe, who's wisely chosen to extremetise the characters in order to stretch the whirlwind plot to engagingly baffling heights. Woodward's Tom is as slimly self-assured as our very own David Cameron - an underhand political obsessive who manages to export his chauvinism to the 22nd century without a bead of sweat. Lucy Newman-Williams cleverly mocks the uptight face-lift of Sarah Palin as she glides along the stage as the right-wing, anti-hetero Rustina. Her entrance lifts the performances of the other actors, enriching their characters with her spiteful confidence and American can-do brashness. Her steely conservatism clashes noisily with Bobby's (Sean Browne) liberalism and adds true tension to a piece which rides mostly on its pace and unabashed juxtaposition of serious themes with comical tone.
The reason why this play works is because it is so absurd, without being absurdist. If it edged any closer to a serious exploration of futuristic dystopias it would lose its off-hand charm and lose the audience. But enough of the 'ifs', this play has a confidence in its tackiness which allows it to embrace its cleverly awkward and unattractive set (Nicky Bunch) and use that aesthetic to reiterate its motives. An ugly, multi-coloured screen slides across a patch of green Astroturf as the characters drink tequila out of science-class beakers and march around in their pastel, silken future frocks. The costumes, from Jen Saguaro, are the height of cliché, but their lack of originality and seriousness reminds the audience that this isn't a serious play. The set and costume cleverly provide enough crass stimulation to preserve the audience's imagination for the calamitous plot. A plot which is underlined by some genius musical accompaniments, not least Joss Stone's cover of 'Fell in Love with a Girl' being played in the underground 'hetero' club; a song which reveals the fickleness of Tom's feelings and the ludicrousness of attempting to imagine courting in the 22nd century.
A Rude Awakening could hardly be called a drama of ideas, nor could it be considered a serious exposition of attitudes towards homosexuality – but there's plenty of plays like that. This show is a bold attempt to discuss the insincerity of politics and the backwardness of homophobia within a bewildering story and a breezy production which shirks the mood lights in favour of fun and a will to entertain. Too often theatre drags the audience into too dark a place for them to be able to read the message. Instead, A Rude Awakening is an orgy of rushed, giggling love with the lights on, a charming imbroglio of hope, humour and heart-warming absurdity which is fresh change from some of the self-important aesthetes of the London theatre circuit.
Box Office: www.talesfromthemotherland.com / 020 7704 2730
Rosemary Branch Theatre
2 Shepperton Rd
London N1 3DT
1st – 20th February, Tuesday-Sunday 7.30pm, Matinees Saturday and Sunday 3.00pm
Tickets: £12/10, all tickets £7 on Tuesday