Theatre Review: Mr Burns (A Post-Electric Play)

In a post-apocalyptic America where all remnants of past society have been destroyed, one remains; the long-living legacy of The Simpsons.

Presented by State Theatre Company and Belvoir
Reviewed 26 April 2017

In a post-apocalyptic America where all remnants of past society have been destroyed, one remains; the long-living legacy of The Simpsons.

A group of survivors robed in dirty clothes huddle close around a fire, guns at the ready as the forest around them creaks. It’s apparent that something big has happened; a large apocalyptic event has wreaked havoc on the United States, decimating the population, leaving the society we know today to slowly disappear. Keeping their spirits up, the group amuse themselves by enthusiastically recounting the memorable ‘Cape Feare’ episode from one of the most popular TV shows to have ever existed: The Simpsons.

Jumping forward in time, the audience bears witness to a recovering, post-apocalyptic world where those who managed to survive are slowly beginning to re-build a new a civilization. A particular group of survivors are doing this by performing episodes of The Simpsons (along with classic TV ads) as a touring stage-show. The famous yellow family’s legacy continues to grow, instilling itself in this post-apocalyptic society, and, as the audience discovers later on, even becoming powerfully prophet-like in the newly formed civilisation.

The concept behind Mr Burns and its physical interpretation is fairly abstract as American playwright Anne Washburn has created a bizarre depiction of what society would be like if a mainstream, pop-culture show somehow developed through the years into a new form religion. Other ideas within the show are just as peculiar in an I-never-thought-of-that kind of way; a black-market for purchasing original lines from The Simpsons, deadly conflict between travelling stage-shows that mimic old TV shows, and the terrifying post-apocalyptic reality that there isn’t any Diet Coke!

Photo credit: Tony Lewis

A significant element within Mr Burns is the varied range of carefully crafted costumes. From truly bizarre, home-made get-ups of the Simpsons’ characters (including glasses with giant, bulging, white eyeballs on them) to what appears to be a Shakespearean, period-like interpretation of the cartoon outfits. Mr Burns’ costume, though, definitely takes the cake and is truly as decadent (in all its sequined glory) as Mr Burns’ bank account.

The entire cast holds its own throughout the show with true dedication to their variety of strange and contrasting roles, as well as their impressive vocal performances. A special mention must be made to Mitchell Butel as he nails the slimy, singing Mr Burns, who turns out to be much more agile (and murderous) than we knew.

A show truly like none-other, Mr Burns will challenge your perception of theatre with its creatively bizarre interpretation of a post-apocalyptic America.

 Reviewed by Georgina Smerd
Twitter: @Georgie_xox

Venue: Space Theatre, Festival Drive, Adelaide
Season: 22 April – 13 May
Duration: 2 hrs 15 mins (20 min intermission)
Tickets: $33 – $61


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