Assembly at Donmar Warehouse Online
How difficult is it to imagine the future? What will be in it? Will it be better for everyone, or will humanity end up going extinct? These are some of the global questions that Donmar Warehouse’s first local production wishes to grapple with. While Assembly‘s technical elements and thematic scope are bold, the result is a disappointing patchwork of cardboard-thin moralising.
The Donmar Local Company and director Joseph Hancock invite the audience to a seminal event: imagining the future after an apocalypse. For the cast of 17 actors (all performing live, remotely), this future is in their hands and there is a lot to do.
Nina Segal’s surreal script is packed with humour that sticky tapes together satire, silliness and some salient points about social, political and ecological problems. Urgency about what this revolution will look like is delayed for a cup of coffee and biscuits; a beleaguered newsreader is stuck on a gradient of “neutral to not yet bad” coverage. Not only are there humans bickering over what community means, but soon Nature and the Universe itself turn up to have their say.
After being cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, the multi-form production reassembles nicely in the digital format. The online meeting setup feels familiar, yet is imaginatively transfigured by Andrzej Goulding’s video design. The faces of the actors are soon covered with anarchic cardboard coverings, as pre-recorded and animated segments creep in to show makeshift miniature society in stages of chaos. The future clearly needs some decent Wi-Fi as there are some show-stopping hiccups with the live elements, but this doesn’t dent the cast’s professionalism. They keep up the momentum in their bizarre yet grounded “talking heads” roles.
Yet, the play’s scatty focus, cute-absurd comedy and loose optimism make the dabbling in issues of community-building under crisis feel too diffuse, shallow and safe. While the playwright obviously recognises that the future will cost something – yes, polar bears might go extinct – most of humanity will be there just “carrying on”. Assembly thus goes out not with a bang, or even a whimper, but a shrug.
Assembly was available to stream via Donmar Warehouse on 20th March 2021. For further information visit the theatre’s website here.