by William Proudler
Old Joint Stock Theatre
Co-Directed by William Proudler and Ruby Etches
Reviewer: Mary Moncrieff
The sun has turned black in the sky. Somehow the bulk of humanity has come to an end. But in the dingy basement of an old toy store, one young woman survives.
Theatre 63’s premiere play Cockroached is a nihilistic dive into the familiar trope of post-apocalyptic literature, but with a few clever twists that make the show a triumph. As it is William Proudler’s first play, one is even more impressed by the nuanced and imaginative writing he uses to slowly reveal the world outside the toy store that our young heroine, Taylor, must face each day.
We are instantly endeared to Freya Sharp’s quirky, loveable and increasingly manic Taylor as she flits about her dungeon-like sanctuary talking to a stuffed bird, drawing pictures like a child and playing tributes to Elvis on her ukulele. Taylor’s already insane world is turned even further upside down when a voice comes through the two-way radio she’s found outside. In an ingenious bit of stagecraft, the voice on the two-way radio is live, not pre-recorded and what unfolds thereafter is an intense duologue exploring the hard truths about life in the dark world, human connection and the potential release of death.
Alexander George’s work on the radio is tad too posh to feel entirely realistic, but it seems to relax over the course of the show. Intelligibility and comprehension are drawbacks to the medium, as the two-way radio is operable but expectedly old school and prone to static. His character is searching for someone called Max, though the nature of the relationship remains a mystery through the majority of the show. Taylor constantly questions his attitude and demeanour, begging him to open up, to be nice, to stop teasing her. Their instant familiarity with one another is jarring but a willful suspension of disbelief allows the audience to engage in their tenuous dynamic easily.
The action is supported by a filmic sound design by the co-directors Ruby Etches and William Proudler, which mostly enhances the tension and upheaval though at times is a bit overwhelming and leaves one longing for the power of silence. Grace Carter’s set design is intricate and alluring: walls covered in maps, drawings, and random paraphernalia give the room a lived-in feel. The use of an old rack of myriad costumes is engaging and depressing all at once as we see Taylor needs the world of pretend to cope with her own depressing reality.
The story begs several questions about the futility of human connection, and leaves the audience with many more questions than answers, as all good art should. Proudler wrote intentionally gender-neutral characters, and the play was previously performed with the actors in opposite roles, Alexander George onstage and Freya Sharp on the radio. For a small company of actors, the possibility and opportunity in this work is enormous. Especially for a premiere production, Cockroached is electric and disarming, and it sets the stage for Theatre 63’s continued success.