Don’t look at the script beforehand – the pages of Xs and blank spaces in ‘A_ct Two’ (sic) give the impression that Alistair McDowall’s new play is pretentious. Fear not, this latest head scratcher at the Royal Court is a spooky sci-fi that’s hugely entertaining.
Set in a research base on Pluto, after environmental collapse on Earth, the abandoned crew is going mad. The characters aren’t entirely successful: cynical captain (Darrell D’Silva works hard at this) and autistic scientist (Rudi Dharmalingam) are a little flat. Better written are younger, amusingly annoying crewmates, played by Ria Zmitrowicz and James Harkness. The most demanding role is for Jessica Raine. Alongside Harkness, she deals with the most challenging scene (those Xs again) admirably, and her vulnerability is an asset to the play.
It’s what happens to these astronauts that counts and, as with any good thriller, tension comes from simple events: the clock controlled from Earth goes wrong, there’s a nightingale flying around and a terrifying figure outside the window! Along with a goosebumps-generating soundtrack from Nick Powell, and a good sense of humour, this show is fun.
How time connects to memory, thus identity and even reality are the serious themes. With no sense of passing days, the crew collapses into paranoia and they, like the audience, can trust nothing. Director Vicky Featherstone pulls out all the stops, and adds a necessary ruthlessness to that printed script. As the crazy delusions mount, you come to dread each blackout and what might appear next. X has plenty of cinematic references and a filmic feel that make it easy to watch. McDowall messes around with everyone’s heads with terrific skill.
Until 7 May 2016
Photo by Manuel Harlan