Written by Anne Washburn, Mr Burns, a Post-Electric Play is a commentary on a range of broad-stroke themes: the imminent arrival of an apocalypse, the USA’s obsession with capitalism and an indissoluble desire to remember, our stories, our memories and, ultimately, our culture.
As the longest running animated television series, it’s perfect that The Simpsons encapsulates the culture of our times. Specifically, it is the Cape Feare episode parodying the Martin Scorsese movie remake that functions as the major conceit of the play.
Running at 2 hours and 15 (including interval) this is a long play. Strongly narrative driven, the opening act is perhaps the most successful. Shadows loom large and flashlights sweep into corners as a group of huddled survivors struggle to recite and revive their memories of the episode in the face of a nuclear disaster.
Fast forward seven years, the same faces, and a few new ones, reassemble for rehearsal of the same episode.
However, in this world diet coke is traded for lithium batteries, actors have guns in their back pockets, lines need to be bought as memories grow distant and commercials now feature a mash-up of 90s pop music references.
The cast all offer solid performances; standouts include Joel Tobeck as the Machiavellian Mr Burns and Olivia Tennet as the frustrated but determined director.
The closing act begins with huge fanfare and is beautifully costumed drawing upon a range of red and gold imagery and Greek tragedy with excellent live music and percussion.
However, nothing changes and we are treated to the same grandiose imagery (with Homer, Marge and Lisa looking strangely like an exoticised version of the Three Wise Men) for an hour.
Quentin Warren and Byron Coll are fabulous as dominatrix-inspired Itchy and Scratchy and laboriously spin the scaffolded houseboat on Terror River to dizzying heights.
Here, close to the heavens, Bart emerges victorious against his arch-nemesis, Mr Burns, and electricity returns to the world with the metallic sculptures in the sky finally coming alight.
Mr Burns has plenty to say and is a challenging and insightful text. However, in a world that is supposed to be about returning theatre to the epicentre of our humanity, Oliver Driver’s production is inevitably consumed by meta-theatrics – leaving little space for genuine awe and fear.