Mr Burns at the Almeida Theatre
In a tribute to Rik Mayall, Copeland MP Jamie Reed argued that Mayall had far “outlived satire in England”, that satire faded out years ago. Now we even have to source it from America to fill the gap! But with its rapid growth and giant political power there is certainly more room for satirical fun. And that’s exactly what Anne Washburn’s play Mr Burns runs on, taking the effects of American politics and culture to its extremes to flaunt the absurdity of its power.
Set in a post-apocalyptic America, where an abundance of nuclear power stations have caught fire and exploded all over the country, six survivors have escaped various danger zones and banded together to rebuild their broken lives. Split into three parts, the obsession with popular culture that once saturated their old America becomes more and more intensely revered by the survivors throughout the play, exploding into a fiesta of extravagance and shrine-like worship in the finale. The Simpsons plays an integral part to the structure and drive of the play, uniting and pacifying the strangers in the opening section and then utterly consuming them in the last.
The compatriots strive to recall the easy humour and culture that defined their lifestyles in happier times, highlighting the aspects and stigmas of America that define its modern culture, such as Diet Coke drinking and television humour. Hilarious and ridiculous on the surface, there is a deeper hollow note due to the complete deprivation of it in their current lifestyles. But the immediate effect is complete hilarity, particularly their reincarnation of ‘Chart Hits’ for their self-made TV show. The marvel of the play is how actors perform their tricks with such heavy reverence and seriousness, highlighting the irony of the play on a more tangible level as actors and audience provide each counterpart. The dynamics of the cast mimic that of an American sitcom, with intelligence, leadership, prettiness and strength all with their own special part.
According to writer Anne Washburn: “This play began in a disused bank vault deep beneath Wall Street”, which just goes to show the feelings Washburn wanted to express. Reversals of cultural and social values, where people sell themselves to companies who perform TV shows in order to survive, reflect the dangers Washburn seems to be suggesting in the sheer power of American hegemony. On the surface however, Mr Burns is just very, very funny.
Mr Burns is at the Almeida Theatre until 26th July 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch writer Anne Washburn talk about Mr Burns here: