Easter always seems like one of those redundant holidays, so what better way to spend my Easter weekend than indulging in some theatre, at an incredible venue that highlights the impressive mix Liverpool offers within the cultural sector. The Lantern Theatre is situated within the heart of the Baltic Triangle and its quaint and quirky style suits smaller productions, allowing for a very intimate viewing experience. It is small but a gem none-the-less as it hosts some of the best up-and-coming talent and houses a bar that leads straight through some curtains to a small stage, this convenient procedure adds to the charm of the theatre. Naughty Corner Productions presented The Bastard Queen at The Lantern Theatre, a self-confessed pitch black comedy that follows four lone survivors in a post-apocalyptic world, where musings of Countdown and pizza are a lusted utopia and finding a box of cigarettes the equivalent of winning the lottery. Co-written with Jemma Lynch and directed by Mikee Dickinson, the production offers an impressive endeavour at pushing the boundaries of black comedy, as serious issues and emotions are approached with comedic timing and a sense of absurdity that reinforced a message about the true chaos and uncertainty of life and ultimately, human endeavour.
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The play begins with a small clip of music repeated over and over, sounding like something from Lord of The Rings – the scenes where a character dies – and so you are immediately taken to a rather apprehensive place. We are confronted visually with a desolate landscape, the set minimally enacted from old chairs and everyday objects, you can’t help but cast your eye on an old shopping basket filled with rubbish, a metaphor explored throughout the play at humanities insistence on clinging to an empty habitual routine and the ‘known’. For the more perceptible of audience members a coyly hung packet of cigarettes from the ceiling catches your attention. Designed by Steven Yates and Tom Silverton the scenery successfully captures a vision of decay, rubbish and scavenging as would be expected in a post-apocalyptic world and the visual backdrop adds to the productions bleak demeanour.
The free form play takes us through the emotional trial and tribulations of surviving in a world where there is seemingly nothing to live for, the four characters find ways to cope within such conditions using their imaginations and humour but continually return to ideas of nihilism, survival for the sake of the race and superstitious themes. When a pregnant girl disrupts the group’s finely kept balance it seems the first exposure towards the ‘future’ of the end of the world is contemplated – her child regarded as a saviour for the human race. With serious issues portrayed through comical twists, some could see the play as slightly distasteful but the cast made sure that sensitivity and touching performances were retained where necessary. An emotionally dynamic production, you relate to the rapture felt by the characters at finding and smoking a cigarette, the awkward moments of needing personal intimacy and how without entertainment a cardboard box could indeed transform into a television with Carol Vorderman and Countdown.
The soundtrack littered throughout the play added to the overall cultural reference points, and allowed the viewer to engage with what perhaps a breakdown of sanity would look, feel and sound like. The mix of musical dance sequences and serious drama scenes may seem odd but I felt it pushed through the austere issues and added a sense of absurdity to this necessity of life and juxtaposed the comedic tackling of a dystopia that results in moral collapse – humanity sinks into dark depths as George Baker’s Little Green Bag plays. The themes of habit and routine seem prevalent, as the daily tasks albeit more extreme are continued: ‘shopping’ through scavenging, cleaning up of a consistently dirty campsite and dinnertime, in which the cast Nick Fraser, Jemma Lynch, Megan Bond, Winston Branche and Kate Brady bravely ate cold tins of beans, tuna and dog food. Habit takes a nasty turn, as the small group’s hierarchical society collapses and hysteria descends into moral degeneration and sexual violence and reveals a lawless world. A play that incorporates nihilistic sentiments, with strong performances from all cast-members and an interesting visual setting meant that though not all jokes may have been found funny for all audience members, and the plays ‘shock’ tactics may not have been to everyone’s taste, we were all nonetheless gripped to our seats to find out the fate of the survivors – and humanity itself.