It is rare that I go to the theatre with absolutely no idea of what to expect, however this was certainly the case with Mr Burns, the trendy Almeida’s latest success story. Is the play an ode to the Simpsons as one may expect? Well sort of actually; the show is a special blend of bizarre and thought provoking, set in a dystopian future wherein the scripture of a long lost popular television show is treated as an esteemed fable. Was it crazy? Yes. Was it one of the best productions I have ever had the pleasure of sitting through? Most definitely.
Mr Burns is set across three wildly different acts, each a 40 minute bite-sized chunk that works perfectly to set the mood of the moment whilst leaving the audience with some serious questions, champing at the bit to find out more. As Act I began to unfold I was unsure of what to expect or even how I felt towards the show; characters were sitting around a campfire relaying an episode of The Simpsons. Sure. However I was soon struck with cold hard tension as an outsider joined the group and it became very clear that this was no ordinary camping trip… these people are wandering strangers forced together by a nuclear disaster.
Left at the edge of my seat by the end of the first Act, Act II gave me more of what I wanted as I saw the characters matured after a time jump of seven years. Now performing “lines” and snippets from television shows for money, the troupe’s situation is in some ways even more desolate. All of the flawless tension and contrasting comedy were heightened to a delicious level, resulting in a true theatrical hoot. But then…
Act III, 75 years on, was a whole new level of juxtaposition as the now mythological Simpsons are performed as part of an operatic retelling of the much discussed Act I episode. I took SUCH delight in watching the ever remarkable Jenna Russell perform Bart Simpson, a figure of relatively low brow culture, with such intensity and depth of emotion, rendering him a hero of legends. It got me thinking, amid a generation that practically worships Shakespeare as THE historical wordsmith, what will future generations associate with us when we die? Is it so crazy to think that, yeah, maybe they might think Bart Simpson was of high culture importance. Well, seeing as much of the world know’s his name, isn’t he?
The powerhouse acting ensemble were utterly watchable. The material given must have thrown them through some serious creative loops but they manage to generate tragedy, chaos, comedy, anger, hate and heartbreaking loss all in one production. Bravo. Seriously. Because of them, because of the way the were able to make me FEEL, I could not help but jump to my feet and applaud these brave performers for everything they put into this show.
I am not sure that words can accurately reflect the feelings of admiration inside that I have for writer Anne Washburn. It is a rarity that I have NO IDEA of where the plot is going and Washburn kept me guessing and begging to know more. WHAT was going on in this lady’s head when she wrote Mr Burns? Who knows! All I know is that the text is one of the most fantastic, thought provoking pieces of writing I have ever seen performed, and could never have even dreamed of. Suffice to say I bought the play text!
Will I forget this show? Never ever.
I wish I could personally thank all cast and creative team for giving me one of the most unforgettable experiences of my theatre going life. I will be back.
Mr Burns runs at the Almeida until the 26th July