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How to Survive an Apocalypse review – dinner drama ducks deep questions | Theatre


This play will not teach you how to survive an apocalypse. Pitched as a romcom about the complexities of survivalism, this four-hander by Canadian writer Jordan Hall is a dinner-party drama about four millennials unsatisfied with their lots. Persuaded to think being able to pitch a tent might improve their lives, they are drastically disappointed when it does not.

The main thrust of the plot is Jen’s (Kristin Atherton) attraction to hunting-licence-owning Bruce (Ben Lamb), next to whom her husband, Tim (Noel Sullivan) – kind, funny, and not into shooting things – pales in comparison. To hide her desire to spend time with Bruce, she sets him up with her friend Abby (Christine Gomes), whose partner recently broke up with her: a different kind of world ending. The four actors perform well together, but it’s with Tim that our allegiance lies – Jen is infuriating in her inability to see what she’s got.

Ben Lamb as Bruce and Christine Gomes as Abby in How to Survive an Apocalypse.
Millennial distress … Ben Lamb as Bruce and Christine Gomes as Abby in How to Survive an Apocalypse. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Written in 2016 and first performed in Canada, Hall’s text dips its toes into what it takes to survive a disaster, but never delves far enough to arouse genuine curiosity or dread. In the programme, there’s an essay about the history of survivalism and its more modern rightwing and religious threads, all of which is fascinating. but none of this is ever even hinted at in the play. Instead, the extremity of the ideas for the end of days are hollowed out and padded with millennial cliches, the existential threat just there to add a new frame to an otherwise traditional story of an unhappy marriage.

The play’s impact is clearest when the quartet delve into why they’re attracted to survivalism, and what perspective the thrill of looming end times gives them; it’s not really about learning how to survive a disaster, but how to find the thing that makes this life worth getting up for. These insights come only in flashes, however, quickly swept away by another bout of yelling about relationships the characters clearly shouldn’t be in.

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