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Mr Burns

It is probably not a good sign that Mr Burns is subtitled “a post-electric play”. That meaningless note of perversity duly pervades the evening which is played out in three increasingly excruciating, infuriating acts. The first is staged in near-darkness to the flickering of a single flame, as we meet a huddled group of survivors from some kind of apocalypse.

They pass the time and seek a sense of solidarity and security in trying to recall details from an episode of The Simpsons. That may be a modern take on Waiting for Godot. By the second act, they’ve become a performance troupe, rehearsing that episode endlessly which they intend to present to other survivors. Recalled lines from the show have become a commodity that are traded between people for goods. By the time they stage a third act version of it as a kind of operetta, I’d lost the will to live, and can only hope that if this is the future of theatre after the apocalypse, I’d rather not survive it myself.

“It’s that fine line between tantalization and torture,” says one character of the piece they are creating in the middle act. I couldn’t put it better myself. Anne Washburn’s play, with its constant references to pop culture, depends on an audience primed and prepped for provocation and preferably an intimate working knowledge of the famous 1993 episode, Cape Feare, of The Simpsons it recreates, in which Sideshow Bob tries to kill Bart Simpson.

But as clever as some of this might seem, the play is both effortful and smug as it appeals to its coterie audience who are in on the jokes. Robert Icke’s production provides little help for those who aren’t, but his cast manage to keep it all animated in the face of considerable adversity, not to mention perversity.

Mark Shenton