New Wolsey Studio, Ipswich
At first it seems we've seen it all before - two characters under the stairs with their blankets, bottles and tins, sitting out the grim hours after a nuclear attack and wondering what's happening on the outside. Remember the old couple in Raymond Briggs' memorable animation? But this hour-long play in which a young man and woman are facing the same situation is a surprisingly entertaining and thought-provoking piece.
Sam (Mark Curtis) has chosen to look after Alex (Frankie Dixie) rather than be with his own family when the bombs go off. They're virtually strangers, but he knows that without him she'd be alone. After a few dates - this time under the stairs counts as their fifth - he likes her enough to mop the blood from her painful stomach wound and to dodge the verbal missiles as he tries to keep her cheerful.
The piece starts slowly, even predictably - but as it unfolds it's startling to see this familiar scenario being played out by the children of the generation brought up on Protect and Survive. The piece moves fluidly between comedy, self-revelation, social comment and despair, with Sam's lively and often clowning optimism contrasting with the sharp-edged hopelessness of the wounded Alex.
Both actors perform with focus and conviction, and the seamless shifts in mood and dialogue are as much due to Chloe Layla's sensitive direction as they are to the pace and judgement of McClelland's lines. Whether reminiscing about their previous dates, pretending to feast on 'rare' baked beans in a posh restaurant or sharing Sam's tuneless rendering of some pop classics, the couple are always absorbing to watch. Their chat offers the audience a microcosm of modern life and relationships, and Alex's confession of her many thoughtless acts of unkindness brings the play to a strong but unportentous moral conclusion.
Ark is an entertaining short play, performed here by a very promising young ensemble - and a playwright who can work such variety into this subject-matter is definitely worth watching.
"Ark" (Just one performance) is part of the New Wolsey's Pulse Fringe Festival, which runs until 4th June.
Reviewer: Jill Sharp