The Critics: Underroads

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The Barron: 22-25 February

As we are ushered into our seats we become refugees waiting to get on a boat, as are the rest of the characters in the play. Together we are trying to escape the rising water levels of what seems to be a post-apocalyptic world. As we are roughed up, ordered to change seats with each other and quizzed about hope, anxiety (and where I got my coat), it becomes apparent that there is more to this play than we were expecting. Yet this, along with a flooded stage, creatures walking around and peering at the audience and decapitated heads, is still not as bizarre as the fact that Underroads is the director’s Sustainable Development dissertation.

So far I have described the type of performance I could easily hate. It is a university play persuading its audience to save the world through abstract principles. Risky methods were also used in the play’s creation. Partly written by a group of students, partly improvised by the actors themselves, it appears that this play had so much potential to go wrong. That said, I was impressed at how well the performance avoided the many clichés associated with metatheatre. At no point did I get the uncomfortable “student play” lurch. I think that the abstract nature of the play was used well to invoke an emotional response from the audience as a foreboding insight into the chaos our world could become. In this way, Underroads avoids taking a lecture-like approach to Sustainable Development and instead just makes you jump out of your seat.

Nevertheless, there is little in terms of plot. Though Greek myth is used to tie up the narrative, the play itself is a jumble of subplots thrown at the audience and then left to be pieced together in their own time. What makes this play a success is that, amongst the chaos on stage, there are beautiful scenes that allude to untold stories. A personal highlight was a scene in which a man, in dignified silence, wiggles into a dress and solemnly dances arm in arm with the harbour’s guard. The strength of acting in this scene steers away from the comic capabilities and was handled in such a mature way that I got chills. The humorous conclusion of the play, leading the audience away from the Barron and towards the Russell Hotel’s bar, provides time for the audience to quiz members of the cast and come away feeling satisfied they may have understood most things.

Overall this play is a mature and innovative depiction of a dystopia. Fans of T.S Eliot’s Wasteland and even Children Of Men shall not be disappointed. Looks like the director, Mr Sonia-Wallace is up for full marks on his project.

Mariko Primarolo

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