It’s the end of the world as we know it at the Camden People’s Theatre, but hey, at least there are biscuits. As the audience we are ushered into a dimly lit lounge-come-tepee setting by our host for the night “Sophie”, played by Rhyannon Styles. There are tea and biscuits, but this is no ordinary get together. We’ve all come, Sophie tells us, to celebrate the last hour before the world ends. “Ends how, exactly?” you may wonder (and well you might ask!). It’s never fully explained, but this is no bad thing, adding an aura of mystery to the proceedings instead.
Those periods of mystery are punctuated by Sophie as she reminisces over her life, plays musical chairs (with herself) and asks the audience to join in on a game of Pass The Parcel. At first there’s a feeling of awkwardness in the room as us conservative audience folk prefer to watch rather than interject, but soon everyone gets into the spirit of the apocalypse in some way or another. It’s these moments, where strangers interact with each other that creates an atmosphere of reality to our supposed fate. Hunched over cushions on the floor, the audience become characters in Angel Cake just like Sophie, producing a refreshing feeling of being part of the performance as opposed to sitting as a crowd of strangers watching the same scene from afar.
And what of our predicament? Styles plays storyteller of the world’s impending doom skilfully, plucking rich stories of mankind’s and specifically London’s recent reaction to the apocalypse from the air and leaving them to float above our heads as vivid vignettes. It’s the little details, such as a man proposing to a complete stranger on the Circle line, that really brings us into a parallel world of madness and chaos, yet strangely, still manages to show us the human side of it all.
What isn’t so human is the interweaving storyline of Sophie and her troubled relationship with her parents. Ironically for a performance piece where everyone knows the ending from the start, little progress is made in terms of Sophie as a character. Whilst there are some touching moments, her reflections never take us further to truly reveal any more about her situation – as she starts to become more wild and frantic, is she regressing into a child or does she as a character simply have some form of mental illness? These components do not sit well with the rest of the performance and actually sometimes feel like padding to give us needy survivors our hours’ worth of trauma.
That said, these few issues do not take away from a play insightful enough to cast transitioning artist Rhyannon as a young girl and surreal enough for it to work. The ending may feel more of a fizz than an almighty explosion but it’s only because the journey to the climax is, in the end, much more interesting and rewarding – and not just because of those delectable biscuits.