Mr Burns

Posted on: 23 June 2014 by Laurence Green

Pop culture becomes an almost religious experience in a post-apocalyptic America in Anne Washburn’s new play Mr Burns (Almeida Theatre), directed by Robert Icke. piece suggests that the iconic TV comedy The Simpsons will be the last relic of western civilisation and for those unfamiliar with the series Mr. Burns is the sinister owner of a nuclear power plant.

In the first act we see a group of survivors of a nuclear meltdown sitting around a campfire, without electricity, reliving the Cape Feare episode of The Simpsons which was a spoof of two celebrated Hollywood movies. Seven years later, conditions have improved a little, and they have become one of a number of groups touring the country with live reruns of popular TV shows. Another 75 years on, the reverence for the cartoon has developed into a cult and we see supposed descendants earnestly enacting a hybrid junk-opera-tribalised and mythologised with masks, of that for-distant episode.

This play asks how the stories we tell make us the people we are, explodes the boundaries between popular and high culture and, when society has crumbled imagines the future of America’s most famous TV family. Here an initially promising premise loses it sense of purpose and becomes both bewildering and overwrought, with the second act in particular seeming like some over-extended student skit. However there are compensations. In one of the genuinely funny moments an intruder appears in the campfire scene and establishes his credentials by launching into a pastiche of the Gilbert & Sullivan song Three Little Maids From School. And there are some scenes which recapture the mad comedy of the Simpsons – as the family flee from the terror of Sideshow Bob, they are offered help under the FBI witness protection programme but Homer shows complete inability to respond to his new false identity.

Director Robert Icke ensures the piece is staged with a degree of inventiveness and marshalls a strongly committed cast including Jenna Russell and Annabel Scholey.

But I’m afraid on the whole I just failed to engage with the play, finding it both impenetrable and pretentious.

Runs until July 28
Box office 020 7359 4404

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