Review of Alistair McDowall’s X at The Royal Court Theatre

XOn a small research base on Pluto a skeleton crew wait. They’ve lost contact with the outside world and now waiting is all they can do. But waiting in the presence of fear and the absence of hope isn’t easy. Part Sci-Fi part human unravelling, X subverts expectations and provokes its audience.

This is a ferocious unapologetic play set in space from the brilliant Alistair McDowell (Pomona, Captain Amazing, Brilliant Adventures). McDowell happily admits he isn’t interested in making things easy on his audience. So there’s no spoon feeding, and every time you get a grip on the play it slips away and morphs into something else. As the play goes on his choices make more and more sense (except when they don’t) and the ambition of the play begins to show.

The first and second acts share location, characters and themes but feel entirely different and the audience is trusted to draw their own conclusions. I went with three friends and we had four conclusions and wildly different opinions – but that’s part of the fun.

There’s strong cast, Jessica Raine (Gilda), Darrell D’Silva (Ray), Rudi Dharmalingham (Cole), James Harkness (Clark) and Ria Zmitrowitz (Mattie) as well as others that can’t be mentioned for spoiler reasons.

Vicky Featherstone directs with conviction. Right from the off we know this is no ordinary world, this is a space thriller/horror/psychological drama mash up and she challenges us to keep up with the pace and the story whilst finding time to care for the characters. The play teases and twists and uses every inch of the stage. This is a play full of questions – Is there something outside? Is there something within? What does X mean and why?

Merle Hensel (Designer) and Lee Curran (Lighting Designer) have created a sinister world, the set resembling an airport or hospital waiting room, it’s clinical and bright, the window looks out onto darkness and the ceiling’s make eerie noises.

X is ambitious, experimental and there are moments when it’s hard to tell whether McDowall is a genius or winging it – but he’s definitely blazing his own trail. For fans of new writing, this is compelling unmissable theatre.

4 Stars

Review by Roz Wyllie

by Alistair McDowall
30 March – 7th May 2016
Jerwood Theatre Downstairs

“It’s a tax write-off. This is where they send the new, the underqualified, the old. And most of all the British. Mars is full of blonde Americans. It’s like they’re building the master race out there.”

Billions of miles from home, the lone research base on Pluto has lost contact with Earth. Unable to leave or send for help, the skeleton crew sit waiting.
Waiting long enough for time to start eating away at them.
To lose all sense of it.
To start seeing things in the dark outside.

“Can you help me?
I really feel like I’m…
I’m hanging on by my nails here…”

Buy Tickets

Alistair McDowall’s new play is directed by Royal Court Artistic Director Vicky Featherstone.
Age guidance 14+
Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (including a 20min interval)
Booking Until: 7th May 2016
Production contains flashing lights.

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