Gloriously surreal satire from rising star Brad Birch
‘Buying houses? We’re not Tories, Chloe.’ Brad Birch’s surreal new satire wears its politics on its polycotton sleeves, in defiance of the chintzy Richmond residences outside the theatre. Nick is a teacher who’s doing his best to turn his inertia into a virtue. He flattens and puts away his girlfriend Chloe’s every objection like a stack of neatly ironed school shirts.
But he’s being flattened too, by a school that packs his schedule with everything from Physics to PE – while aspirational Chloe is scaling the career ladder by mirroring the every buzzword of her obnoxious boss. The boss’s agonisingly overdone dinner party is a great set piece, the Kit Kat Chunky in a tuck shop of fizzing one-liners. Plenty are at the mildly buffoonish Nick’s expense – Ciarán Owens is endearingly bewildered and stubborn by turn. But his relentless need to tell the truth in a world full of puffery and pretensions makes him a kind of hero, too.
To literally underscore the point – and this production doesn’t really do subtlety – Tom Gibbons’ sound design uses David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, endlessly repeated. As Nick gets drawn into a surreal mission to expose the dark truth about his school’s, it starts to sound ironic. And as the sadistic headmaster leads him on bizarre conspiracy trail, it echoes his depression with dark distortions and jarring overlaps.
The final third of Birch’s play gets lost, a bit, in the dark woods that house ‘The Brink’. Nick’s descent into madness is not so much mysterious as muddled, and the play comes to an ending that’s as calculated as a primary school abacus. But director Mel Hillyard’s tight ensemble cast and bold staging keep this satire clicking along with a zany energy that just about pulls us over the edge with him.