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Karagula review at Styx, London – ‘a work of sprawling ambition’

The cast of Karagula at Styx, London. Photo: Lynette Clarke

Karagula hums with ambition. It vibrates with it. And even when it feels like its own wild and reckless energy will tear it apart altogether, there’s something exhilarating about that. Performed in a once-secret location, now revealed to be a hipster bar that’s somehow got itself lost in Tottenham Hale, Karagula is a sci-fi epic that’s one-part barn-door-broad social satire and one-part free-wheeling dystopian fantasy.

Set in the distant world of Mareka (geddit?) which was had its culture melded Galaxy Quest-style by broadcasts from the US of the 1960s, on the surface it’s the story of a resistance group fighting to take down a totalitarian state. It could be a mid-1980s episode of Doctor Who, or any number of pulpy, clunky sci-fi flicks. Think Soylant Green meets Logan’s Run. With milkshakes.

The production wheels between the intentionally kitsch and the accidentally wonky, with design from Shawn Soh displaying DIY brilliance on a budget, particularly in its dozens of alien costumes, but its staging is beset with B-movie shakiness. Max Barton’s direction shows a brilliant fluency of styles, its texture and inventiveness a solid match for the scale and variety of Ridley’s writing. The cast is strong and diverse, frantically doubling roles to fill out the 50-strong character-list, with a particularly brilliant turn from Obi Abill as the right-hand man of the nefarious Grand Marshall

Though Karagula is a play with as many scenes that miss as hit, and one with just far too many scenes full stop, it’s a brain-bashing affirmation of Ridley’s multi-faceted brilliance. In terms of his sheer catholicity of styles and voices he’s matched only by Caryl Churchill in all of British playwriting. And with a policy of inclusion and representation as ambitious as its production, this is a team which has taken an impossible play and made it a tangible, if tremulous, reality.

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A work of sprawling ambition realised in a constantly inventive but slightly shaky production