Seven Dials Playhouse
Aren’t we all a little sick of the arduously serious predictions of the earth’s future? This shattered dystopian hellscape is mirrored back at us through art’s mutinous lens. Zombies rampage, comets collide and the planet boils in its own inactivity, and is there a laugh to be found? Not a chuckle! Enter Help! We Are Still Alive!
Putting the punchline back into post-apocalyptical, an evening of mirth and atmospheric death is much welcomed by all who experience it. In the newly revamped Seven Dials Playhouse (formally the Tristian Bates Theatre) the foyer/bar is done up a little like a tasteful 3rd-year university flat with ZZ plants and bright yellow blankets draped over sofas. Still, a little coffin-like but certainly an improvement on its old basements feel. We are herded into the black box marvelling at the contrast. Red spray paint covers the walls spelling the title, a small chipboard stage is in the middle, family photos plastered over it, a chandelier made from torches swings, detritus, and a shopping trolly is all we can see. So far all very 28 Days later.
Onto the stage explodes Jade Johnson playing Jass. Dictaphone in hand, stained Lucy and Yak trousers on she bounds headfirst into the tale of destruction and isolation. No less than a comedic genius she boosts Imogen Palmer’s bubbling script, twisting this end-of-the-world romance into a hilarious forest fire of a performance. Possessing a powerful singing voice, and a complex understanding of the world “existing” around her she crafts a woman stranded at the end of the world with not quite the right person.
This person: Finn, played by Elijah Ferreira draws the short straw character-wise in comparison. While Jass is conflicted and funny, Finn must be sensitive and needy. Their dynamic works well dramatically (although comedically not well within the story) and Ferreira provides sweetness in the form of delicate masculinity and unfiltered emotions.
The reverse gender roles and trans visibility along with the overall queerness of the story add that unique spark that reanimates the tired only-lovers-left-alive trope. There is childlikeness in their joint obsession with canned food and Bedminster Asda, and optimistic attempt to carve out a life together. Tim Gilvin’s music and lyrics fit nicely with Palmer’s witty dialogue. Although well sung by both the songs are not the high point of the show.
Georgie Rankcom’s directing is impressive, using the space well and not asking too much of it. He creates the couple’s camper van, favourite Sainsburys, and the all-important Asda in a flash. Bringing together Lucía Sánchez Roldán’s confident lighting and Lu Herbert’s effective set and costumes to create a believable deserted city before our very eyes.
Although the show is a little long for a two-hander, the overall sense of hope and the messiness of human relationships is deeply uplifting. Johnson charms, and chastises us, dominating the show, dictating her thoughts and feelings to the humans she doesn’t know exist. Yet there is no maudlin dwelling on pain and misery, together they navigate existential and personal tribulations. Onwards they press with a song in their mouths and tins of custard in their backpacks; together, united, deeply flawed, human, and in love and if that isn’t a rousing note for a doomed world, I don’t know what is! Maybe the upcoming climate crisis won’t be that bad? Wait… who am I kidding?
Find what other gms are lurking underground at the Seven Dials Playhouse, click here!