A Plague On All Your Houses, a new play by writer/director Marcia Kelson presently playing at the Riverside Studios, is a hilarious romp depicting plagues through the ages. Scenes, not in chronological order, imagined the impact, on rulers and ordinary people, of the plagues including those of biblical times, pestilence in French wine fields, the Black Death, which caused so many problems for the budding playwright William Shakespeare, up to recent Covid events and a very worrying peek into the not too distant future.
It was presented on a largely bare stage against a black backdrop, with a few boxes as props, and a keyboard musician to one side of the stage. All the characters in all the various historical pieces were played four actors who changed their costumes at the side of the stage in view of the audience.
It is very fast paced and very funny. Ben May stood out with his hilarious impersonation of Boris Johnson, all the more impressive since physically he resembled nothing like the original. The script had obviously been kept up-to-date with very contemporary references. Rachel Wilkes played suitable accompanying music on her keyboard and on one occasion came forward with an appealing rendition of a song and it was impossible to ignore her invitation to the audience to join in with the, very simple, chorus.
While primarily a comedic piece there were thought-provoking moments as history seem to be repeating itself while each generation seem to have learned nothing from previous events. It lasted only 60 minutes, which was well judged, since the fast paced nature of the action would have made it difficult to sustain for much longer. At the end of the evening, I was left wondering what the overall message of the play was, apart from fairly obvious points that plagues have always been part of human history and can be, and may well be, much worse in the future than the events we have recently experienced.
The writer and the group deserve credit for addressing issues in a light-hearted way while recent memories are still rather painful. As a piece of drama, however, it would have benefited from a stronger underlying theme and could do with substantial reworking before it emerges as a memorable piece of theatre.
Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd
Reviewed: 15th July 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★