Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green finds Alistair McDowall's new play X a disappointment that fails to live up to its promise.

X-Ria Zmitrowicz (Mattie), Jessica Raine (Gilda)

I have been looking forward to Alistair McDowall's new play X (Jerwood Downstairs at the Royal Court Theatre), directed by Vicky Featherstone and showing as part of The Big Idea season, but in the end, it turned out to be a great disappointment.

The action is set in a lone research station on Pluto, inhabited by five people who have lost touch with the mothership that is Earth billions of miles away. Unable to leave or send for help, the skeleton crew sit waiting. No one knows what time it is - the digital wall clock has gone haywire - or what day, and always seem to be eating breakfast cereal.

The crew, which comprises jittery leader Gilda (Jessica Raine, of Call the Midwife fame), growing increasingly anxious about their predicament, Clark (James Harkness) an irritating maths geek, Cole (Rudi Dharmalingam), a scientist , and oldster Ray (Darrell D'Silva), the astronaut who ferried them through space and who can remember when there were birds and trees on Earth, talk a lot but the drama seems to go nowhere. There is also another girl who appears from time to time or is she a ghost? To be honest I am still unsure as trying to make sense of the plot is like trying to work out a Chinese puzzle.

With crass dialogue and shallow characterisation and a complete lack of tension, it is hard to care about the individuals who are doomed from the beginning. The play develops into a psychodrama and surreal survival story with much shouting and screaming, blood and vomit all of which makes little sense. Furthermore, humour is at a premium, although I did like the topical joke that these unlikely astronauts were receiving tax-free payments.

The best thing about the production is Merle Hensel's   imaginative set of the command room at the research base with a ladder leading up through an open access hatch, a kitchen unit on the back wall and a large circular window that looks out into the blackness which at least tries to convey a sense of reality.

Overall, though, and to use a terrible pun, the playwright and actors seem to be on another planet as far as I was concerned!


Runs at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court Theatre until Saturday 7 May 2016

Box office: 020 7565 5000


Images Manuel Harlan


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