Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Writer: Anne Washburn

Director: Ronan Phelan

Reviewer: Clíona O’Connell


“This is a cartoon. That’s what we’re doing. You keep trying to turn it into a drama.”

Indeed Anne Washburn’s clever dark comedy set in a post-nuclear disaster America does just that. Set over the course of three acts, Washburn uses the dramatic structure to imagine the future of society in a world without power, reeling from a recent catastrophe.

As the play opens we are introduced to a group of survivors gathered around a fire in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Huddled in the dark they try to recollect one of the great stories of their time – the “Cape Feare” episode of “The Simpsons”. For any “Simpsons” fans this will no doubt be a joyous experience (and kudos to Peter Corboy who plays ‘Matt’ for an excellent “Sideshow Bob” impression), however knowledge of “The Simpsons” is not a prerequisite for enjoying this beautifully crafted scene or indeed this play which is more a meditation on the importance of stories and storytelling to the human condition.

As the play progresses we trace the evolution of that infamous “Simpsons” episode as it is subjected to the process of human recollection and our (seemingly incessant) desire to create meaning. The second act is set seven years after the first as we meet the same group of characters who have now formed a theatre group that specialises in performing “Simpsons” episodes complete with advertisements and pop medleys. The final act is set 75 years later and the episode is now almost unrecognisable in form and content.

Mr Burns was a clever choice for the Rough Magic SEEDS showcase, offering it’s designers a chance to take bold imaginative leaps in visualizing a world in the not-so-distant future. Dara Hoban’s atmospheric lighting design beautifully captures this post-electric world of candlelight and shadow. Molly O’Cathain’s set and costume design is both playful and imaginative yet also captures the dark and precarious elements of a post-apocalyptic world.  Sineád Diskin’s effective sound design complements but never dominates the rich visual aesthetic.

This play is packed with parody and pop culture references, just like the cartoon show it plays homage to. A very enjoyable evening of theatre, although at two and a half hours long it does wane in places. Overall strong performances by the entire cast with some very funny “Simpsons” impressions.

Runs until 9th December 2017 | Image: Ste Murray

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