“No-one wins the end of the world.” This just about sums up Jordan Hall’s witty and timely rom-com-drama “How To Survive An Apocalypse” which tracks a millennial couple’s sudden financial collapse and how this leads them to question their smart urban lifestyle and adopt a survivalist mentality. Realising that they are not at all prepared for a natural disaster or catastrophic failure of society, they start to learn what they will need to survive. They quickly find that Jen’s skills of running a lifestyle magazine and Ben’s coding ability have left them remarkably lacking when it comes to survival in a potential post-apocalyptic world of no food, water or electricity. They can just about buy bottled water and tinned goods with their maxed-out credit cards, but becoming hunter-gatherers is definitely beyond them. It all sounds horribly appropriate at a time when we are hoarding toilet paper and tins of spam and hunting for petrol supplies. The play asks the characters, and the audience, who are they and what they really want from their lives.
Set in Vancouver, “How To Survive An Apocalypse” premiered at the Firehall Arts Centre, winning the 2016 Flying Start Competition. Kristin Atherton is marvellous as the high-maintenance Jen, editor of a failing lifestyle magazine. She is forced by the magazine’s editorial board to accept the intervention of the smug survivalist, Bruce, played with appropriately smarmy charm by Ben Lamb. Noel Sullivan is note perfect as her nerdy and not quite top-notch coder husband Tim, who thinks his new apocalypse simulation to game out their options will solve their problems. As they try to learn new life skills that are totally alien to them, their relationship is tested, their characters peeled back.
Alongside the couple’s troubles, Jen’s friend Abby, beautifully played by Christine Gomes, provides a counterpoint storyline. After a recent break-up and the loss of her potential future as the trophy wife of a wealthy businessman, Abby is lost, and like Jen is re-assessing her life. More laissez-faire than Jen, she may be less willing to relinquish the upmarket lifestyle she had and adopt the approach of the survivalist and prepper. She’s happy to do the sun salute in the wilderness but draws the line at killing Thumper for dinner.
Ceci Calf’s set design is a masterclass of minimalism. There’s an elegant choreography as the cast change the sets, moving furniture and props to create an office, a dinner party or a cocktail bar, all while remaining in character. It’s as smart and clever as the play itself. As is Jimmy Walters’ direction, which brings out all the facets of the characters and makes them relatable for the audience. Even smug Bruce.
Don’t be put off by the title. This is a play primarily about life, love and relationships and how people negotiate the ups and downs of their survival in an uncertain world.
How To Survive An Apocalypse continues at the Finborough Theatre until 23rd October. Tickets are available from: https://finboroughtheatre.co.uk/production/how-to-survive-an-apocalypse/
Reviewer: Carole Gordon
Reviewed: 30th September
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★