The scariest aspect of Matthew Bulgo’s dystopian horror is that his near-future America may already exist. In the world of the play the rich and powerful play God over cocktails, while the poor and desperate are treated like stray dogs.
Gwydion Rhys and Lowri Izzard play two recruits in a mysterious training facility. Ruth Ollman and Chris Gordon conduct a clandestine business meeting behind closed doors. Both duologues are sharp and economically written, with Bulgo drip-feeding the audience information.
The play’s two-tiered narrative is nicely reflected in Delyth Evans’ clever set design – half of the stage consists of bleak, colourless living quarters, the other half an opulent dining room. Simon Clode’s unsettling video montages adds to the sinister atmosphere, as does the score by Tic Ashfield.
It’s the performances that make the strongest impression though. There is real chemistry between both pairs. Izzard, in particular, gives a revelatory performance – she’s clearly a name to watch. Emma Stevens-Johnson has done an excellent job as accent coach, especially in regards to Izzard and Rhys’ distinct Southern drawls.
Though Sara Lloyd’s production is engaging and intense, a needlessly expositional final scene takes some of the shine off things. Bulgo abandons the ambiguity of earlier scenes for this final sequence. Despite this mis-step, American Nightmare makes for a very strong start to the Other Room’s Violence season.