Karagula at StyxCultureTheatre
Philip Ridley has painted another darkly absurd world for us to climb into. This one’s set on a fictional planet wracked by human greed and bloodlust – so far, so Earth. But add a pair of moons, an uprising of people with telepathy and bullets that grow like embryos, and you have a fully-furnished fantasy world that fuses classic science fiction with recent history.
Karagula explores different ideologies spread over generations, beginning with a surreal cult based on 50s America: all bright clothing, sunny optimism and milkshake. At its centre is an oddly specific but nevertheless toe-curling tradition – that of selecting a prom king each year, only to doom him to certain death. The venue (Styx)’s outside bar even serves up orange sherbet milkshake, just to let the audience know they’re complicit.
Disparate vignettes gradually link up to reveal themes of organised belief and of freedom. With a nod to Orwell’s 1984 and Wyndham’s The Chrysalids it presents a patchwork quilt of conflict that recalls the JFK assassination, WWll bomb raids, Hitler’s final moments in his bunker and Deep South lynch mobs. Snapshots of familiar black-and-white news bulletins and fuzzy history textbook images unearth themselves from the audience’s mind to fraternise with clips of apocalyptic horror TV series and American high school movies.
Fans of Ridley will be glad of the generous helping of inventive violence – some implicit, some very much there on stage. It’s good to see that his black-as-tar humour is also very much intact; in a scene where an apron-ed hostess dishes out homemade apple pie while describing having once sliced a man’s face off with a knife, the absurd incongruity of Ridley’s writing is strong as ever.
Despite this, Karagula makes for a rambling three hours with several confusing scattergun scenes. Panic and danger are put across mainly by lots of shouting. It’s also difficult to grasp details of the story and the chronology of events as the narrative flips disjointedly back and forth in time. Clearly there’s a well thought-out story beneath it all, but much of it is lost under the disorienting surplus of action and constant stream of new characters. Not least, this dampens the effect of an ending that is supposed to tie up all loose ends.
Perhaps this ambitious script would be best showcased in TV series format with the luxury of time. Here it is frantic and a little unpolished, which diminishes its imaginative world.
Karagula is on at Styx from 10th June until 9th July 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Karagula here.