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The Ridiculous Darkness review at Gate Theatre, London – ‘stunning and subversive’

Travis Alabanza in The Ridiculous Darkness at Gate Theatre, London. Photo: Helen Murray Travis Alabanza in The Ridiculous Darkness at Gate Theatre, London. Photo: Helen Murray

Under Ellen McDougall’s leadership, the Gate has solidified itself as an invaluable space that continually programmes daring and ambitious work. Anthony Simpson-Pike’s production of Wolfram Lotz’s radio play (itself a take on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now) is a dizzying and breathless deconstruction of colonialism and its artistic hangovers, one that is never afraid to be strange or difficult.

It is a slow-motion explosion of a piece, an artistic leap of faith conducted with such care and detail by Simpson-Pike that it pays off dividends. Credit must be given, too, to Nina Segal’s dramaturgy, which has pruned the extraneous and created a piece well worth the time.

Rosie Elnile’s lurid green design feels alarmingly uncanny – a set that hints at the forest its characters travel through, but prefers to blast through normalcy into the flat-out absurd.

The cast is uniformly excellent, but Travis Alabanza’s magnetic performance as a white soldier attempting to maintain control of a “civilised” narrative is particularly well-measured. The toxic whiteness being unpicked at the piece’s core is undeniably present, and yet by solely casting femmes of colour, Simpson-Pike ensures that control remains in the hands of those who are so often downtrodden and ignored in traditional artistic narratives.

Every part of this piece feels deeply thought through – from the foley that initially underscores the piece but eventually rises against it, to the absurdist and modernist sensibility soaking the piece that pokes fun at and harks back to Conrad’s novel.

What a stunning, subversive and ultimately hopeful piece of work. More like this, please.

Inside Bitch review at Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, London – ‘gloriously disruptive’

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Audacious, layered and delightfully strange theatremaking