Would a post-nuclear apocalyptic Liverpool be a good setting for a musical? Ursula Rani Sarma obviously thought so, as that’s where her play, apparently celebrating the Olympic spirit of truce as part of the Cultural Olympiad, is set.
Debuting at the Liverpool Empire – the theatre’s owners ATG funded the production via their charitable foundation – and featuring young actors from the the Empire’s and Brindley’s respective youth theatres, the idea was to give both groups a run-out on the big stage in a new production, The Ripple Effect, that would give us an insight into modern culture.
To that end the set-up – a divided Liverpool after a nuclear war, populated only by children – seems unlikely. There are hints of Threads, the BBC’s nightmarish 1980’s drama, but there’s also a dose of Animal Farm and Lord Of The Flies. Add in a good handful of Hollyoaks and you have a fairly queasy mix that is both incoherent and tonally weird.
In the play a group of youngsters, known as ‘illegals’, attempt to gain entry to the walled-in areas run by the ‘councils’ that now run what’s left of the cities, in search of medicine, food and tidy conclusions to dreary teen melodramas.
Barely any of the characters are especially likeable or believable; sullen, shouty lead Beth as easy to warm to as a nuclear winter. Characters come and go, sometimes disappearing for the remainder of the play with no explanation. Motivations are dubious and the resulting rapprochement between everyone hard to believe.
Throw in a few musical numbers – again, does a post-holocaustic radioactive landscape really lend itself to Glee-like choreographed vocals? – to punctuate proceedings and some desperately-needed laughs provided by Callum Cavanagh and The Ripple Effect presented a very strange evening’s viewing.
This was a shame because there’s a lot of talent in evidence on the stage – and the notion of creating a new production to celebrate the Olympics and for the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) to stump up the cash to stage the play and put it on a big stage are all praiseworthy. Hopefully the two youth theatres will get a chance to shine again.
The material, however, was not up to it. As if to encapsulate how odd it had all been the very last word heard from the ensemble was a lengthy and cheery “DIE!”. We did, a little.