First published in The Times, Saturday March 26 2016
At first glance, the new play from David Leddy looks not at all the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from the most audacious of Scotland’s contemporary theatre-makers. We open on a luxurious function room, into which tumbles a quartet of upper crust characters in white tie and cocktail dresses. There’s a trophy wife (Claire Dargo), a self-important crooner (Robin Laing), a celebrated photojournalist (Lesley Hart) and a senior bureaucrat (Selina Boyack).
If there’s more than a whiff of one of Noël Coward’s drawing room comedies about the set up, this is only the first in a whole string of genres parodied and paid homage to in the course of a dense 70-minute theatrical collage. With characters throwing up, losing control of their bowels and running around like headless chickens, the play reels from stiff-upper-lipped comedy to crude farce, culminating in the kind of twist ending you’d expect from a whodunit. As if this brew were not heady enough, Leddy’s script contains nods to Moby-Dick, Noah’s Ark, Shakespeare’s Tempest and even the Big Brother house.
Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
If the writing is soaked in references to cultural works from the past, its premise is speculative. The UK is in meltdown, to the point where even the most wealthy and powerful are being forced to flee. Having bribed their way onto one of the last ships pulling out of the failing state, our four elite refugees assemble in the appropriately named Caliban Room, to fuel up on canapés, though with little control over their ultimate destination and no communication with the outside world beyond the disembodied voice of the ship’s captain.
For the most part it is enormous fun watching these venal characters descend into panic, degradation and worse, to the strains of music ranging from the Sugacubes to the Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson, and against the backdrop of Becky Minto’s handsome set design, which conspires with Nich Smith’s lighting to create an exhilarating patchwork of shifting atmospheres.
Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
As the ship attempts to plots its choppy course, though, the feeling takes hold that the play’s numerous literary and cultural allusions, while enjoyable, only hides a lack of satirical focus on the writer’s part. There’s no greater catharsis than witnessing establishment figures falling from their pedestals, particularly when portrayed with such effrontery. It’s a pity that Leddy’s fearless satirical force doesn’t go hand-in-hand here with a deeper exploration of the prevailing attitudes and circumstances that might make such a scenario inevitable.