Someone turns off the lights. Then the door swings open, and four people scramble into the room shrieking with fear. You might be forgiven for mistaking these opening moments – coming, no less, from a show which promises an ‘apocalyptic horror fix’ – for the start of a series of cheap thrills. It isn’t long before you realise that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
It grips and unsettles its audience, and, most importantly – makes us think.
Making its return to the Fringe after four years, JD Henshaw’s intelligent and thought-provoking play revolves around four strangers who struggle to survive in a world which has now ended due to a plague of the walking dead. The four characters seek shelter in an abandoned house, and later admit a man called Tom into their midst.
Subsist raises some interesting questions about what it means to be alive. Are we human because of the connections we make with others, or our ability to cling on to markers of civilisation such as electricity and hot tea? Does the struggle to survive at all costs make us lose part of our humanity?
Henshaw is by no means the first – or last – writer to grapple with these issues. What distinguishes Subsist from many other works of its kind, however, is its tightly written script and clever subtlety. It does not try too hard to be shocking or terrifying. Instead, it gives the audience members just enough material to work with and lets their imaginations do the rest.
The dark, minimalist set allows our attention to be absorbed fully by the masterful and compelling acting that goes on. Lynne Martin delivers a superb performance as one of the two women in the play. Her acting is spot-on and impressively controlled as she alternates between states of beaming optimism and moments when the mask slips to reveal something more sinister.
Anyone suffering from Fringe fatigue can expect to be jolted back to life by Subsist. It grips and unsettles its audience, and, most importantly – makes us think.