8 February 2014

It Just Stopped at the Orange Tree

I tweeted after the show that It Just Stopped was the sort of play that if I had seen somewhere else I would have said that it is the sort of play that the Orange Tree should be doing.

I enjoy the Middlemarch Trilogy and its ilk but I feel that the Orange Tree can veer towards the safer older works rather than trying something riskier and newer. Of course they do do some new plays but I would like them to do more, though given that the average age of the audience is comfortably above sixty then it is perhaps understandable why they don't.

I go to everything at the Orange Tree (an excellent habit heartily recommended) so that was the main reason for seeing It Just Stopped but I would have travelled further to see it. Firstly it sounded different and interesting and I like different and interesting. Secondly the promo for it described it as "a funny and piercing allegory for our times", which sounded good. And finally, I had seen one of the actors, Joseph Kloska, in two excellent productions at the Arcola in 2013.

It Just Stopped is the story of Franklin and Beth (pictured above) and what happened to them when everything stopped working; electricity, water, mobile phones, everything. That sounds a bit Survivors or 28 Days Later, and some of the publicity suggested that it was too, but this is not a post-apocalyptic story, rather it is a story that is triggered by an apocalypse.

Franklin and Beth are both doing well in their jobs, though they both have some issues there, and are fairly happily married though they have some issues there too. Those issues are the grit from which humour flows and the story starts as an honest look at what life is like for a lot of people.

Then things stop working.

The immediate impact is that Beth cannot get the lift down the 47 stories of their block to get to work and she cannot phone work to let them know that she will be late. Then things started to get a little worse as the scope of the apocalypse (if that is what it is) and the possible consequences start to become clear. The structure is rather like a JG Ballard novel where a sane world ends up mad but it is unclear where it flipped; much like boiling a frog.

The arrival of a rich couple from upstairs then takes the story into even darker places and the first half ends on a bomb-shell.

Having dropped the bomb the second half of the play spends more time assessing the worth of Franklin and Beth and even they concede that neither of them does anything very important, one works as a radio producer and the other as a writer.

As the situation becomes more complex, without ever leaving the flat, Beth asks the question, "Are we dead?" which had already occurred to me, was never fully answered but was almost certainly not the case.

In a final twist, events take an extreme turn and something very unusual happens. This had also happened at the start of the play so the suggestion was hanging that it was the same event and so we had not seen a chronological story.

I was enthralled and captivated from start to finish. The bizarre situation, the convincing characters, the uncertainty, the humour (there was lots of humour), the excellent acting all gelled together to make something truly astonishing.

The richness of it all defies my amateur attempts to categorise or describe it and the best I can do is thrown in some more similes like Lost, High Rise, The Shadow and No Exit, to show the variety of ideas and concepts used. And do not forget that it is funny too.

It Just Stopped is exactly the sort of thing that I like to see at the theatre and that my local theatre chose to show it was doubly good for me.

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