Writer: Will Pinhey
Directors: Will Pinhey and India Howland
Mannequin Mouth is a relatively new company creating site-specific theatre which they later film in the same location without an audience. Their second production, Armageddon, Baby! – whose jaunty title is at odds with the sometimes-gruesome content – premiered in 2019 and is now released as a filmed version via the company’s website. Captured in a simple style with a grainy handheld camera, the approach seeks to represent the experience of immersive theatre rather than the traditional style of filmed productions.
There is rioting in the streets and the sounds are getting closer to the house shared by Klipper, Bishop, Cookie, Kitty, Norton and Lana. Some of the housemates decide to embrace the chaos with the pursuit, at least, of sex and drugs but flustering Bishop is determined to protect the homestead. When Kitty brings local hardman Spade into their space, tensions rise but can they find common ground before the mob gets to them?
Will Pinhey’s play has two quite distinct halves each running for approximately an hour that in some ways almost seem like separate entities despite consistencies in character and theme. The first, filmed in a small, concrete back garden in a normal terraced house, is a siege drama drawing on the conventions of one-room or locked-room scenarios to create tension between the characters as well as the more cinematic influences of zombie and sci-fi shows and films, as an encroaching enemy gives the piece an end-of-days tone.
And this part of the play makes a more successful transition to film, with Pinhey and India Howland able to use the different levels of the garden to move characters around, close in on individual experiences and, in a confined space, create the growing fear both of the impending disaster and the personal stories of housemates venturing beyond the gate. Although it strings out the interplay for a little too long, it provides a solid introduction to each personality as well as the range of, sometimes quite violent, responses to disaster.
The second half of the film and the play is considerably less effective, drawing its style from more abstract drama by containing the actors in a windowless space. There are notes of Anne Washburn’s Mr Burns in the exploration of memory and stories in culture as well as the impact on the mental health of those left behind. But the surreal nature of so many of the interactions and bursts of anger never quite finds the same rhythm as the first, so the scenario fails to convince.
Actors Macauley Keeper, Samuel Nicholls, Laura Jackson, Mima Beauchamp, Harvard John, Charlie Howard, and Howland create distinct characters all looking for oblivion or release in their own ways. The absent voice of Lana (Howland) creates an authoritarian structure in the domestic sphere which adds much to Act One, but bringing the character into view in Act Two lessens the effect.
Armageddon, Baby! does have gory if sometimes unconvincing violence with dead cats, blood-soaked madmen and the implication of sexual violence woven through the show, although the pillar-box colour of the blood isn’t as alarming as it sounds. Mannequin Mouth have taken an innovative approach to staging and filming their work, achieving the immersive feel they set out for but, in transferring to the screen, the limited scope of the lens gives a director a visual language that the stage cannot, requiring fewer words to achieve the same effect, so Armageddon, Baby! would benefit from a shorter, tighter edit to better suit its medium.