HOW TO SURVIVE AN APOCALYPSE
by Jordan Hall
Directed by Jimmy Walters
Finborough Theatre – until 23 October 2021
It’s a treat to finally get back to the snug but ambitious Finborough, one of the capital’s most consistently impressive studio theatres. Kudos to them for forging ahead with reopening even while the pub downstairs is under major refurbishment. This may mean less woozy playgoers tripping inelegantly up those treacherous stairs, but the current production, Jordan Hall’s multi-award winning Canadian comedy in a smart staging by Jimmy Walters, is so engaging you don’t really need a glass of overpriced wine to enhance your experience.
Hall’s tartly funny script, which reframes a lot of rom-com tropes in the context of a youngish urban couple Jen and Tim making preparations for the “end of days” while also examining their relationship and somewhat disappointing career trajectories, has probably, since it’s 2016 Vancouver premiere, acquired an added piquancy for these Covid-ravaged times.
It’s an enjoyable evening, superbly acted on Ceci Calf’s elegantly off-kilter traverse set, but not perhaps as edgy as one might have expected from the play’s title or even the poster design for this London production: a cartoon drawing of a wedding day couple in gasmasks. Although billed as a romantic comedy in the publicity material, it still feels akin to writing a play about shopping and calling it something like ‘How Capitalism Destroyed The Western World’. Still, Hall’s dialogue accurately captures the rhythms and cadences of modern urbanites and wittily suggests that, for all of our sophistication, most of us would come apart at the seams in a real threat to civilisation. It becomes a little schmalzy though as the central couple fall out then regroup, and Jen is briefly drawn to Bruce, the gung-ho corporate macho man she had tried to set her New Age leaning, fragile friend Abby up with.
Only one scene, where the women have a fairly intense conversation about matters of the heart, loudly punctuated by the sounds of offstage explosions and horrendous violence (Tim writes apocalyptic computer games for a living and is trying out a new creation at home) feels truly original. Elsewhere there are few genuine surprises.
The actors are all terrific though. Kristin Atherton is a powerhouse of go-getting professional energy mixed with tremulous personal uncertainty, in a seriously accomplished, dynamic performance as Jen, matched by a hugely likeable Noel Sullivan as her infinitely less ambitious, permanently bewildered partner. Christine Gomes and Ben Lamb also do superlative work, suggesting multiple layers and shading to the other pair, both of whom could come off as a bit clichéd in lesser hands.
The concepts of order collapsing and survival at all costs, while also attempting to maintain some vestiges of chi chi living, feels uncomfortably relevant, despite the steady flow of laughter, plus it’s good to discover a talented new writer, especially when her work is given as fine a UK premiere as this one. Welcome back Finborough, you’ve been missed.