X

Theatre, Drama
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(29user reviews)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
1/14
© Manuel HarlanDarrell D'Silva (Ray), Jessica Raine (Gilda)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
2/14
© Manuel HarlanRia Zmitrowicz (Mattie)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
3/14
© Manuel HarlanJames Harkness (Clark)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
4/14
© Manuel HarlanDarrell D'Silva (Ray)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
5/14
© Manuel HarlanJessica Raine (Gilda)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
6/14
© Manuel HarlanRia Zmitrowicz (Mattie), Jessica Raine (Gilda)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
7/14
© Manuel HarlanRudi Dharmalingam (Cole)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
8/14
© Manuel HarlanJames Harkness (Clark), Rudi Dharmalingam (Cole)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
9/14
© Manuel HarlanDarrell D'Silva (Ray), Jessica Raine (Gilda)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
10/14
© Manuel HarlanDarrell D'Silva (Ray)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
11/14
© Manuel Harlan Ria Zmitrowicz (Mattie)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
12/14
© Manuel HarlanJessica Raine (Gilda)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
13/14
© Manuel Harlan James Harkness (Clark), Jessica Raine (Gilda)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
14/14
© Manuel HarlanJessica Raine (Gilda)

Alistair McDowall follows up his stunning 'Pomona' with this brain-melting sci-fi odyssey

Bluuuurdy hell. 

I mean. 

Where to even start with ‘X’.

If I had to ascribe it a genre, I’d go for ‘space horror’, which is definitely one of the more underrespresented theatrical forms. Although not entirely surprising coming from playwright Alistair McDowall, who announced himself in 2014 with  ‘Pomona’, a jaw-droppingly audacious, non-linear, HP Lovecraft-referencing thriller set underneath the streets of Manchester.

In ‘X’ it is the future, sometime, and all the birds are dead and all the trees are dead. Or so we’re told, anyway: the play is set on a British-run research base on Pluto, the erstwhile planet at the very edge of the solar system. And it’s been three weeks since anybody heard from Earth: messages have been sent, and apparently received, but the home planet has stopped responding. A scheduled spaceship home has not materialised. The crew are coping relatively well: high-strung Gilda (Jessica Raine) is clearly freaking out, but keeping herself going through blind optimism and focus on the day-to-day. Laidback Mattie (Ria Zmitrowicz) and nerdy, unimaginative Cole (Rudi Dharmalingam) are just getting on with their jobs. Clark (James Harkness) is concentrating on being a dick. And Ray (Darrell D’Silva), the oldest, crankiest member of the crew is drifting back into memories of the time before the birds died… oh, and he thinks he’s seen somebody else about, a little girl with an X of scar tissue for a mouth.

Things start to get even stranger when Cole notices that something is up with the base’s clocks. The linearity of time starts to be called into question. In certain scenes one of the crew appears to be dead, in others, not. Nervous, bored bickering slowly curdles into dread and then horror as we realise something is most certainly up. And then ‘X’ gets properly weird.

The show is so unabashedly other that I suspect it’ll be heavily misunderstood by folk suspicious of something that’s as influenced by ‘2001’ and ‘Event Horizon’ as any of the theatre canon. Vicky Featherstone’s production – in which all the action takes place in a single, disorientatingly angled rooom, which changes drastically during blackouts that are ably controlled by stage manager Sunita Hinduja – has a deadpan tone that won’t work for all, but I found it mesmerising. And the cast are great, neurotic Brits bickering Britishly at the outer limit of known space.

As for what’s going on – I mean, fuck knows really, but clearly ’X’ is a play about disintegration and endings; the end of life, the end of memory, the end of technology, the end of civilisation, the end of maths. It also looks really cool. Space: the final frontier and a neato metaphor for the human mind. More playwrights should explore it.

Average User Rating

3.1 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:3
  • 4 star:10
  • 3 star:8
  • 2 star:3
  • 1 star:5
LiveReviews|29
2 people listening
1 of 1 found helpful
Tastemaker

X is well written, daring and moving. It tackles big themes; futility, loneliness and emptiness. So, it is not exactly light entertainment although it does have some funny moments.

The acting was great, it needed to be, given the elliptical script. The direction was also really good, making the times when we could not see the stage almost as dramatic as when the lights were on.

I found the ending emotional and the play stayed with me long after I left the theatre.

Love it or hate it, I guarantee that you will not see another play anything like X this year!

1 of 1 found helpful
tastemaker

I must admit to quite enjoying this production. I like the idea that a play is set in a sci fi world with the isolation being shown. A clever set with lights setting off an eerie atmosphere. The whole cast acted out this play brilliantly. I think some of the reviews here have been a bit harsh, perhaps they were expected a scene where Ripley fights off the Aliens.

tastemaker

This is a really odd play and I wasn’t really sure what to make of it - I think I enjoyed it, but I’m really not sure...  The performances are strong and you get to know each character and what makes them tick very well.  I have no idea what the end was about, but maybe that’s the intention - to allow the audience to form their own conclusions.

Tastemaker

So it's some time in the far future, the trees are all gone, the birds are all dead and humans have colonised a few planets. they've also sent a ship/station to Pluto and that's where this play is set. Exploring themes of humanity, madness, loneliness and time, the play is all set in a claustrophobic slanted room with a window looking out into the blackness of space. Dialogue heavy, but also featuring some fantastic lighting and music to set the scene, the play starts off fairly normal until one of the crew sees something that should definitely not be there. With communications back to Earth not working and the crew losing track of how long they've been there, things soon take a turn for the worst. Act 2 pretty much lets you make what you want of the situation but I found the whole thing compelling, with great acting and moments that sent a shiver up my spine. If you like movies such as Moon or Alien, I highly recommend X.


I'm a fan of sci-fi so have no doubt the lure of a sci-fi play is what led me to the theatre but it goes way beyond the genre trappings of sci-fi so if you're not into science fiction don't dismiss it off the bat. I left the theatre thinking about time, identity, perception and memory. Some fundamental assumptions about what an audience is viewing when watching a play were turned on their head and completely blew me out the water. I found that almost as thrilling as figuring out what was going on in the play especially during the first half when the crew realise time is glitching and earth still isn't responding after weeks (or is it months?) of trying to get in contact.


Fundamentally though, the play would work in any isolated context. it works set in space because Pluto is as far as we can get from home and still be in the solar system thus being the very definition of isolation but beneath that it was touching and very human. The characters felt familiar and had depth.


the second half spirals manically and lost a few people for sure but overall I found it a rewarding and thought provoking piece of theatre. The cast were strong too with excellent acting and the staging helped complete something which is as exciting as it is disorientating. The royal court is always pushing writers and directors and its great to see that carrying on here.

Tastemaker

The Royal Court generally produces good pieces of theatre (on par with the National where I generally go) and although I didn't know much about the plot in advance (except that it was set on Pluto) the play is grounded in a potential future reality where a group of Astronauts have been left stranded in Space and have no way of knowing if anyone will be coming to save them. The play is a melding of SCI-Fi and physiological drama which mainly concentrates around the captain and her relationship with the crew. What made it engaging for the audience was I think having to put the scenes together like a jigsaw as they are mixed up from start to end.

 
Tastemaker

Where to start with X. That's as difficult as trying to explain what it was I saw.

This thought provoking, mind bending, play tackles many hard hitting themes which leave the audience with more questions than answers.

Set within a research module in deep space, the crew find themselves cut off from Earth. When the clocks then start glitching they start losing their grip on reality. Hallucinations walk amongst them and as the play unfolds you get a sense of the true meaning of isolation.

Not a play for the fainthearted and also not one for a casual viewing, X is certainly worth a watch.

Tastemaker

Very strange, very confusing, very mind boggling. Still not too sure what happened!

Tastemaker

I am a big fan of space exploration and sci-fi, so had high expectations for this show, which only made the whole event more disappointing.It felt like a poor attempt to bring Solaris on stage, and for every unexpected narrative twist (I counted two) there was half an hour of monotonous dialogues, so most of the play felt like watching a dysfunctional family quarrelling in the kitchen for hours on end. From the cast of six, two could not act at all and one had such a strong accent, even my Scottish friend struggled to understand him. Really not worth your time!

Tastemaker

I enjoyed the first half of this but found it too convoluted to enjoy at the end, leaving me questioning what I had seen and it's purpose.

I found the concept interesting if somewhat depressing (everyone dies on earth and those in the space station are left to slowly rot). I also thought that the acting and stage design complemented each other to produce a good show wit the lighting being put to particularly good use . 


Whether or not it's an enjoyable show is a much more personal experience.


'X at the Royal Court' - A Haiku: 

X at the Royal,

X gonna give it to ya?

X misses the spot


I really liked this show, the acting for me was spot on, there was no weak link and frankly with a show that has a small cast you do not want a weak link. The first had unveiled really well and left you question what will happen next...Going into the second half a bout of confusion is installed...ummmm what!!??


I like the story, the simplicity of the production and the cast were spot on. However, what I was not so keen on was that not enough information was shared as to where these guys came from, what they had left behind and what they truly feared. 


I left the show thinking...what did I just watch, which in a strange kind of way I mostly liked. 

Tastemaker

Warning!  Please don't take anyone to this play you want to impress, unless they are a performance artist or similar, otherwise they will just think you are mental and sneak out at the interval.  

We loved X, it's very funny, interesting, quirky and best of all very, very dark.  However I can appreciate it isn't to most people's tastes and definitely won't be a crowd pleaser.  

One thing I can say is that the cast is really strong and they guide you through a rollercoaster of emotions from laugh out loud moments to white knuckle suspense to revulsion. 

If you're after something different and are open minded go and see it. 


Not quite the experience I wanted it to be based on the first half. The setup is strong, varied characters, solid world-building and an atmosphere of isolation and mystery (even mild horror). The second half lets it down though - while it succeeds in disorientating and confusing the audience, it doesn't feel like it complements the first half with satisfying connections to what was established early in the story. It's too loose and ambiguous for its own good, and compares unfavorably with another of this year's plays that similarly uses the perspective of the main character to bewilder and confuse the audience - The Father. I'd give it a lower rating if it weren't so good at making me want to like it.

Tastemaker

At the interval I would have rated this a generous 4 stars, there were funny parts, interesting plot lines and it all looked like it was going somewhere exciting.  The second half really changed that and a 2 star rating is really the most I can give. The humour left and it seemed that some of the actors decided to really 'ham up' their facial expressions just to make sure the audience really understood that they were a bit distressed.  Maybe I am being too harsh, I was just annoyed that it had so much potential and just didnt go anywhere with it by the end.  I left asking many questions, probably not the ones I was meant to.....mainly just 'why?!?'


   As I understood it, X is about time (X stands for time in Cole's equation).  Stranded in a research base on Pluto, already disconnected from the rythms of nature such as day and night, they totally lose their sense of time when the clock malfunctions.  The play seems to explore the importance of time to our concept of self (What is self but the collection of memories, awareness of the present and projections of the future?).  When the characters' perception of time evaporates, their minds seem to disintegrate along with it.  They struggle to complete sentences (Thoughts and language follow a linear path so break down too) and their memories become confused as sense of separateness fades (at some points the characters recall memories of events that happened in their absence e.g. the calculator incident).  Not sure where the girl fits in.  Does she represent time itself in someway???

    This film is ambitious in its scope and delivers on a conceptual level.  Xcellent...sorry!


One of the worst things I've ever seen in the theatre. Filled with clichés. It felt like something a show-off teenager would write. Someone needs to go through the script and cross out about 50% if it. 

Tastemaker

It's had mixed reviews but I really liked X. Act 1 shapes up like a genuinely creepy space thriller as we realise things aren't quite all they seem on a research base on Pluto. Is everyone really who they say they are? Act 2 goes batshit crazy as we start to doubt time, space, language and whether the whole thing is even really happening. As the crew go into meltdown, stranded on an eternally dark planet with a broken clock, strange noises in the ceiling, and a mysterious presence somewhere outside on the rocky surface, we have no idea if what they're experiencing takes hours, days, years, decades - or even if it's some warped dream.


An incredible set and some mind-bending ideas make X a show you won't forget in a hurry. 


X



Tastemaker

When we took our sets, we were met with an empty box for a stage and we were trying to work out where people would appear from, but when the play started, it was wow - a whole new scene opened up to us, which initially did give me a bit of motion sickness (even though it wasn't moving!)


As the play progressed, we got to know the characters, then realised that all may not be as it seems - where's the pause and rewind button when you need it?  It started to get a bit creepy, especially as the whole theatre goes pitch dark each time the setting changes - at one point the people in the row in front of me looked like they'd just come off a ghost train when the lights came back on!  By the interval, a mystery was emerging, but we would have to wait until after the interval to find out more.  However....


After the interval things got weirder and even the bits you thought you were beginning to understand were possibly not what you thought.  Who was mad, who was right, was one of them just going to wake up in the shower at the end and realise that it was all a dream??  The lights went out again and everyone clapped - how could they tell that it had just finished?  What was X, or did it just mean 'don't know'?


Despite not really having a clue what actually had gone on by the end, we did really enjoy it and it was good that there was not an obvious story line to it.  You are left to draw your own conclusions.

Tastemaker

What the X was that all about? This was my first visit to the Royal Court and It was most enjoyable even if I did leave feeling as cuckoo as the characters in the play. X tells the story of a group of scientists living on Pluto who are unexpectedly left stranded indefinitely in this post-apocalyptic-cum-sc-fi play. What's-her-face of Call The Midwife fame plays the main character, the second in command of the station and is supported by a team of equally talented crew bringing together drama with little comedic nuggets and horror. The first half was pretty coherent, I could follow what was going on, it was the second half where I got a bit lost. Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed it, I just don't have a clue what the message was. Did they all go round the twist or am I not just intellectual enough to understand it? On seeing some clever looking people clutching the book from the play on the tube home, I sneakily pressed pause on the old earphones in the hope of picking up a fragment of their conversation that would hopefully explain what I just witnessed, alas no, I am still in the dark. So if anyone can clarify I'd greatly appreciate it. In the meantime, I'll continue pondering, maybe that's the aim after all?!


'X' left me feeling slightly confused and unsure as to what I had just seen. There were some scary moments which made me feel quite tense but other than that I was just confused. My boyfriend, who is a huge sci-fi fan loved it so I guess it's just a difference of opinion.


'X' was a well executed production with some great dialogue and the actors nailed their parts without a skewed line between them. I just felt very lost for large portions of the show and just as I began to find a path of understanding, I would be dragged back into a jungle of comprehension or lack of, rather. Of course, this is the intention of the show and I appreciate they executed this with venom and steel. I guess after so much confusion, I would of liked some clarity to walk away with. Not the case here. There were a few scary moments backed up by darkness and lighting effects which created a tense environment .I would probably recommend people to go and watch it if they fancy something different but not a must see, for me.


The best thing I've seen so far this year, intelligent beautifully written and compellingly performed. One tip, the second half makes sense of the first and you have to be observant.


Great night at the theatre. Exciting, traumatic and puzzling. Highly recommended.

0 of 1 found helpful

A dull mess of a play. Weak chracterisations, little tension and the plot a hotch-potch of sci-fi clichés. Despite the attempts at playing with time I left during the interval. Life is too short for more than an hour of this.

0 of 1 found helpful
tastemaker

I may be being unfair it giving this abysmal production only 1 star - but I couldn't stand any more & left as soon as possible (at the interval). I totally agree with Styl H - amateur I regret to say is the right word.

0 of 1 found helpful

This is a not great evening at the Royal Court. A rather disappointing play that tries to mix Alien with existential angst. The cast are lost in regional accents and a slow moving plot. Sartre's Huis Clos it is not. And I am surprised the Royal Court allowed such an amateurish performance to reach its main stage.

0 of 1 found helpful

Worst thing I have ever seen in the theatre. Terrible script with awful acting. The only good thing about this was that it had an interval and gave us the opportunity to leave early.