Dystopian fantasy is the dominant genre or our age. We go for zombie apocalypses like the Cold War era lapped up spy dramas. It is there in the Hunger Games, TV dramas like Black Mirror or The Nether from the Royal Court
Are things really so bad?
Mike Bartlett latest play, Game at the Almeida, uses a dystopian setting to write a satire on class hatred but I was left feeling that the style came before the content, and his heart was not really in the political message.
In contrast, Tomorrow, a new play by first-time writer Samuel Evans, produced by Whistlestop at the White Bear, uses the dystopian theme to talk about mental health. It made for a far more gripping and unexpected play.
Game is the story of a young couple who are given a free home on condition they allow paying customers to take pot-shots at them with tranq guns. The man playing the ‘warden’, a kind of game-keeper to these urban assassins, is an ex-soldier who is increasingly traumatised by his work. It is a satire, clearly, though it is difficult to say what it is a satire of. During the siege of Sarajevo, Serbs would drive into Bosnia to take pot-shots at Sarajevo kids and families. Western kids known as The Hilltop Youth will go to the occupied Palestinian territories and play at being settlers during their holidays, beating up villagers or burning down olive groves. The opportunity to be hobby murderers is clearly one that could be made to pay, but whether this is Bartlett’s point, it is hard to say. It may simply be a play about PTSD and soldiers abandoned after war, as images of soldiers replace the young couple when they leave the apartment.
In Tomorrow, the inhabitants of an Elephant and Castle tower block are waiting for the End of the World with the expectation that life will improve. It is no fantasy: the apocalypse is all over the news channel, and people are partying and rioting in the street. Clive cannot leave the block, however, following a nervous breakdown, so he chooses to wait for the apocalypse at home with a small buffet from Lidl.
It is a great idea, well-observed and carefully rooted in the Elephant and Castle, excellently played by a strong cast. The problem that I anticipated – where do you go with the Apocalypse? – is the one that affects all dystopian fantasies: where do you go? what’s it all for? But I was wrong about Tomorrow. It ends upon a note of hope, even as the world is burning. Clive sees that in a world where everyone is on the brink of a kind of madness, the fears and the prejudices that usually surround mental health issues are rapidly evaporating.
I cannot imagine anything worse than a world where judgement really is nigh – but for someone who has always been misunderstood, the prospect that the rest of the world will finally understand comes as a blessed relief.
Rating: Tomorrow, Four Stars.