Rats – Etcetera Theatre, London

Writer: Gaël van den Bossche

Director:  Josh Hinds

Reviewer:  Richard Maguire

To be human is to be plagued with existential crises, but without them could we call ourselves human? Gaël van den Bossche’s new play is a thoughtful dystopian comedy that examines what life could be like without feelings of alienation and isolation.

In the future people are divided into rats or cons. Rats is short for rationals, those people whose egos have been removed at birth. They are almost robotic, hardwired into a common network called Darren. If there are any difficult decisions to be made, then Darren will make them. He absolves the rats of any responsibility.

Cons, on the other hand, carry the weight of responsibility as they have retained their egos: they are ego conscious. They lead lives like ours, estranged and paranoid. There are very few cons and it’s their job to oversee the rats, and to make sure that Darren doesn’t malfunction. It’s a lonely life and so con George is delighted when he discovers that rat Lynn wants to have her ego restored.

The set up is neat, and the story is never predictable, helped by the cast’s solid acting. Mike Parker is especially watchable as Robert, the unquestioning rat, bringing something of Roddy McDowall from The Planet of the Apes to his performance. However, the other rat, Katy, played by Charlotte Bloomsbury, resembles one of the wives from the more recent dystopia, the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, regal and unflappable.

The rats elicit more sympathy than the cons, who just seem to shout a good deal. David Clayton as George and Hayley Osborne as Lynn suggest that we may be better off without our egos, but their characters require quieter contours if we are to root for them too.

At 60 minutes, Rats never outstays its welcome, and although the publicity suggests that the play is about our relationship with technology, Rats seems more influenced by Marxist theory, where the working-class are controlled by the privileged. Perhaps the revolution is closer than we think.

Runs until 25 November 2018

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Thoughtful dystopia.

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