Thursday, 12 January 2017

Review: Brains, TheatreN16

"Jeff, there's no time for hysterics"

One of the most impressive things about the set-up at Balham's Theatre N16 is its commitment to nurturing new work and new companies in the face of an increasingly hostile funding climate. So the likes of Thick & Thin Theatre, a London-based company founded last year, are supported to develop and mount their work, such as their new play Brains, written and directed by Cameron Szerdy.

Brains is set in an office at the pharmaceutical company MediBite Inc. in a near-future world that has been ravaged by a virus that has turned much of the population into zombies. When the discovery of a potential cure well and truly sets the pigeons among the staff there, from ball-busting CEO Ursula to disengaged intern Tina, no-one is quite prepared for the cut-throat insanity that is revealed.

Billed as a play about "money, drugs and...zombies", the piece takes in an ambitious sweep from office comedy to an exploration of the ethics (or lack thereof) of big pharma to all-out zombie apocalypse. And with such grand aspirations, it is perhaps unsurprising that there's a mixed strike rate, the enthusiasm of this young group not quite matched by the scope of the writing here.

Stretched thinly across different genres like this, the play ends up a jack of all trades. The office banter led by Aidan Parsons' coke-snorting Harry and mainly directed at Jack Dent's hapless Jeff has much potential (both very good performances) but loses a little something in the delivery. And the murky morality of Stephanie Overington's Ursula again feels ripe for exploration, but is weighed down by dialogue that mistakes profanity for characterisation.

The zombie thriller aspect felt the weakest to me, the rapid descent into mortal peril didn't quite convince. especially played as seriously as it was. A lighter touch, emphasising the comedy (and inherent campness) and thus contrasting with the darker business-minded side of the drama, might suit any further development of the piece, for it seem that Thick & Thin do have something interesting to say.

Running time: 50 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 14th January

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