No Planet B - The History Of The World Backwards, Tricycle Theatre, London
Thursday 06 July 2006
In No Planet B Newman's idea to run history backwards, while human lives go forwards as per normal, appears to offer the opportunity to marry chronological facts with punchlines. In this parallel universe North American Indians ethnically-cleanse white Americans by 1492 and Nelson Mandela goes into prison as a Spice Girls fan and comes out an activist.
Tonight the songs are plentiful but sombre in tone and often the lyrics, delivered in a monotone, are drowned out by Newman's treasured ukelele. Even his mimics seem a little off, such as his Paul McCartney who, (surprise) retells history to diminish John Lennon's influence on The Beatles.
The major recurring theme of No Planet B is a love story between John and Patches, a couple torn apart by the Second World War and then the Spanish Civil War, in that order. While this is rather sentimental, far less so is the impending Ice Age, an obvious mirror to the environmental carnage that starts the story in 2006. In between the two climactic crises Newman sometimes rights a number of wrongs (as he sees them): for instance, Britain overthrows the Shah in Iran to institute democracy.
Elsewhere, however, own goals are scored, such as when the Suffragette movement relinquishes the right to vote, marching under banners with "You decide for both of us, dear" written on them. Throughout there's is a feeling of a nostalgic Luddism. Newman gleefully invokes a technological collapse: inventions become uninvented, the last oil well is sealed, supermarkets disappear, and polluting air travel declines.
In one of the more playful sequences, Newman portrays Mozart unveiling Don Giovanni as influnced by Orange Juice's hit, "Rip It Up [and start again]". I can't help thinking how appropriate those words are.
Until 15 July (020-7328 1000)
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