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“Hauntingly human”

People still argue over the meaning of the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And audiences are likely to do the same with Alistair McDowall’s stunning new play, X, which shoulders the legacy of Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece with ease, leaving its own hallucinatory mark.

Where McDowall’s last play, Pomona, found Lovecraftian horror in grimy Manchester backstreets, X takes us into the solar system and a research base on Pluto that has lost contact with a resource-depleted Earth. Time is glitching, the crew is losing its grip and there might be something impossible in the darkness.

From Solaris to Event Horizon, a wealth of cinematic references lurk in the writing, and the battered futurism of Merle Hensel’s tilted set. It’s a lonely place, for lonely people hanging on the edge of memory. McDowall masterfully plants ideas that grow until they explode into extraordinary shapes. Filthy humour breaks down into a cracked algorithm of letters and loss.

Royal Court artistic director Vicky Featherstone snaps us in and out of darkness with the same disorientating sense of dread as the Japanese horror films that are also part of the play’s DNA. There’s a hanging emptiness to the well-used space, with its hatches and ladders and its dare-to-look window.

Leading an exceptional cast, Jessica Raine exposes every fraying nerve of acting team leader Gilda. She’s desolately moving by the dreamlike final scenes, as McDowall and Featherstone wrest hard-edged genre tropes into something hauntingly human. X is a play that will gnaw away at you. It’s sci-fi – and theatre – at its best.

Production Details
Production nameX
VenueJerwood Theatre Downstairs
StartsMarch 30, 2016
EndsMay 7, 2016
Running time2hrs 25mins
AuthorAlistair Mcdowall
ComposerNick Powell
DirectorVicky Featherstone
Set designerMerle Hensel
Lighting designerLee Curran
Sound designerNick Powell
Video designerTal Rosner
CastAmber Fernee, Darrell D'silva, Grace Doherty, James Harkness, Jessica Raine, Ria Zmitrowicz, Rudi Dharmalingam
ProducerRoyal Court
VerdictAlistair McDowall’s new play confirms him as one of the most imaginative and talented new voices in British theatre today
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Tom Wicker

Tom Wicker

Tom Wicker

Tom Wicker

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