Belvoir's latest is a tad unusual - a new American comedy adapted from one of pop-culture's most prevalent narratives - The Simpsons. While, yes, the show's a good 15 years past its prime, I'm one of a vast number of my age group who, back in the day, watched the first eight or so series in regular repeats and could and did recite gags from the series (indeed, my brother and I still will recite the Frogurt conversation from Treehouse of Horror III).
So this is a post-apocalyptic story about how narratives survive, mutate and survive - while also being, almost, a retrospective history of how theatre evolves. In the first act, we meet a set of people gathered around a fire, trying to remember the episode "Cape Feare" (notably, a Sideshow Bob episode, and one based on a film that is itself a remake). We're not told the full details of the disaster that's led them to this point, but references make clear that it's scary, dramatic and very real for these people, and that whatever escapism sharing the narrative can give them is desperately needed. In the second, five years later, these people have formed a small touring theatre company, now re-enacting the episodes with rudimentary props and costumes, trying to evoke for their audiences the world before the disaster. Of course, the world outside is still impinging, and some of the squabbles of the troupe will feel awfully familiar to anybody who's ever been part of an amateur theatre group (in particular the petty rivalries with other groups and the concerns about naturalism versus styalisation), and it's clear this is still not entirely a safe world, but the performers try their best. In the third, seventy-five years later, things have morphed and advanced to the point where the story has become something between a passion play and an opera, semi-ritualistic with a heroic narrative and hyperstyalised performances.
It's one of the most astounding things I've seen at Belvoir in quite some time - by no means is this a conventional narrative (none of the characters from acts one and two appear in act three, unless you count the "characters" being re-interpreted), I'd normally go through the cast and point out highlights, but this is such a ridiculously tight ensemble it feels impossible to pick people out - Esther Hannaford's heroic Bart in act three has true nobility to her, and Jude Henshall's director Colleen has all the exasperated energy of the character in act two, while Brent Hill's Matt holds as the centre of Act one as the primary character driving the memories, but really, everybody is exceptional.
Imra Savage pulls together a tight production that allows even the most ridiculous moment to have generous humanity to it. Jonathan Oxlade's design is exceptional, and in particular Act Three is the most glamorously excessive I've ever seen the Belvoir stage, while still having strong authenticity to it.
For something that could have been a trivial wacky diversion, this is a show with an awful lot of depths. Well worth catching up on.