Mr Burns, Almeida Theatre, review: 'Lacks speed and cheek of The Simpsons'

2.00

 

Anne Washburn's serio-comic off-Broadway smash is one of those works that prove to be far more stimulating as a concept than in the actual execution.  Subtitled “a post-electric play” and set in the not-too-distant future, it imagines that an unexplained nuclear catastrophe has left the US in technological meltdown.

As the dramatist has revealed, she had long been toying with the idea of pushing a popular TV sitcom beyond the apocalypse in order to speculate how, in a culture that has had to revert to oral traditions of story-telling, accounts of the show would develop and shift over time as a result of the fallibility of memory and the human need to make sense of the world through narrative. 

It's a droll and somewhat dismaying notion that the educated East Coast survivors in Washburn's play cling not to recollections of Shakespeare or the Bible (books – apart from note-pads and maps – are conspicuously and mysteriously absent from the proceedings) – but to The Simpsons. 

In the first act, huddled round a camp fire, a group of folk on the run from radiation are seen trying to piece together in pedantic detail one episode in particular.  Aptly, given the play's preoccupation with allusion and the processes of transmission, “Cape Feare”, in which a vengeful Sideshow Bob is released from prison and homicidally pursues Bart, is itself a spoof of the Scorsese remake of the original 1962 movie.

Anyone planning a visit to the UK premiere of the piece, directed by Robert Icke at the Almeida, should be warned of two things.  If you are unfamiliar with The Simpsons, you are liable to be in dark in more senses than one and if you are a fan, don't go expecting the play to have the cartoon's hilariously savvy speed and cheek with cultural references nor its refusal ever to labour a gag. 

Icke's game cast can't disguise the fact that Mr Burns (the play is named after the boss of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant) is audacious in theory and, to be sure, defiantly weird and singular and yet oddly plodding and ponderous in practice.

The best part, to my mind, is the genuinely amusing middle act set seven years later when the survivors have become an itinerant theatrical troupe putting on live re-runs of TV shows and in turf wars with rival companies over buying remembered lines. There's a mad collage of pop hits performed atop pink Cadillac constructed from cardboard boxes. A deep, insecure nostalgia for the old luxuries informs their ridiculously dedicated attempts to recreate commercials (“Shiraz makes a lot of people slightly nervous because they don't remember if they drank it or not”). 

I don't want to reveal too much abour he last act, which takes place seventy fives year on, except to say that, in the game of Chinese whispers, the Simpson's episode has now achieved the status of religious myth –  all gold masks and ritualized ceremony to the eerie dissonances of Orlando Gough's score.  The cast (with Jenna Russell superb as Bart) do the material proud. 

But by that stage you may feel that an idea that would have real bite as triptych of sharp pithy sketches has been protracted beyond endurance in this three-hour marathon.

To 26 July; 020 7359 4404

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick