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Catastrophists review at the White Bear Theatre, London – ‘over-reliance on caricature’

Edmund Dehn, Patsy Blower, Alexander Stutt and Elizabeth Donnelly in Catastrophists at the White Bear Theatre, London
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Jack Stanley’s apocalyptic comedy of manners Catastrophists is rooted in Alan Ayckbourn territory. Obnoxious young professionals Raf and Harry host a dinner party for their new neighbours, middle-aged survivalists/cult leaders Claudia and Peter, by way of apology for a drunken Harry relieving himself on their Orla Kiely yurt.

The apocalypse may well be nigh in the wake of Donald Trump’s threat to wage nuclear war on North Korea, yet the play feels strangely dated. Guacamole and flatbread is considered a cutting-edge nibble and it’s questionable as to whether a civil servant and think-tank strategist could afford both a house in Barnes and a holiday home in the Cotswolds these days, even with Harry’s inheritance.

Set in a tastefully decorated but impersonal living/dining room, Cameron Cooke’s production is a caricature-heavy one in which both parties are equally socially inept. In her ‘try-hard’ boho jumpsuit, Elizabeth Donnelly’s tactless Raf is a memorably blowsy exhibition of middle-class vulgarity, a catastrophe waiting to be unleashed.

Waiting out the end of the world in scenic surroundings, spouting righteous waffle and allegedly practising self-sufficiency (even though their vegetable patch is barren), the glazed-over Claudia (played with affected line delivery by Patsy Blower) and jovially sinister Peter (Edmund Dehn) make a creepy pair with a loophole for everything.

Stanley’s play has the potential to be a quickfire battle of ideas but it isn’t sharp enough, descending instead into broad farce in the company of grating characters for whom the apocalypse can’t come quickly enough.

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Verdict
Promising premise let down by an over-reliance on caricature for impact
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