Chris Goode’s reputation precedes him. When you mention you’ve going to his new show, Mirabel, your theatre friends will blurt out how lucky you are. Winner of four Fringe First awards, and ‘the theatremaker’s theatremaker’ (Time Out), he’s built up an enviable body of nonconformist work, tackling a wide range of unpredictable subject matter.
Mirabel is no exception to this pattern – undertaking a post-apocalyptic journey to find an adult, because that’s who you tell when things have gone wrong, 8-year-old Mirabel is voiced and performed entirely by Goode himself. As her naive, insightful voice bursts forth from this bear of a man, pure theatre magic happens, and you find youself wrapt by this very adult, bittersweet odessey. Mirabel navigates the end of the world with only the help of her bear, and a few misfit characters they picks up on the way – a dog, a rock and a confused pilot who’d much rather she took the lead.
Mirabel’s greatest strength is its spine-shiveringly good writing. It’s as if Caryl Churchill and Douglas Adams had a literary baby, in turns absurd, apocalyptic, world-building and world-destroying – think beetles who think sadly about mathematics. Goode delivers this opus with a beautifully crafted air of throwaway humour. With director Rebecca McCutcheon, Goode delivers a hugely confident performance, giving space for the jokes to ligh the darkness, ensuring that the audience never goes too far into the darkness of Mirabel’s new world. Whilst there were moments that dipped in energy, with a single performer on stage, that simply provided the show with a natural rhythm.
There would certainly be more immediately obvious ways to tell this story – through props or puppetry, for example, to bring Mirabel’s companions to life. However, the creative team have taken the brave path of stripping back, to leave Goode alone onstage, framed by a striking design from Naomi Dawson. Gauzy, transparent corridors that steadily seperate the audience from the performer as each scene progresses, perfectly reflects the layers of Mirabel’s story, as she ventures deeper into her journey. Lee Curran’s lighting design brings each layer into focus, as Goode travels towards the back of a stage littered with boulders and post-apocalyptic detritus. It feels simple, but perfectly pitched, and brutally emphasises the loneliness and featurelessness of Mirabel’s new world.
So far, this is definitely a top drawer production. With such strong, balanced storytelling, I want to finish the review here, say it was all fantastic and wait eagerly for the next Chris Goode installment. However, in the last 10 minutes of the show, Goode flips into a completely different voice and character – there’s a huge tonal, aesthetic shift into the surreal. It feels like the theatrical equivalent of drinking orange juice after cleaning your teeth – both equally fine on their own, but when done consecutively they create a bad taste. It’s great to make unusual choices in theatre, indeed it won’t survive unless we do, but you can’t leave the audience behind – as one audience member said as they left the auditorium ‘that was brilliant! I didn’t really understand it!’. I worry that this opaqueness could be alienating, particularly to those who aren’t already involved in the theatre industry, and wonder if it needs to evolve in order to earn it’s place as the final scene.
CAST AND CREATIVE TEAM
Written and performed by Chris Goode
Director – Rebecca McCutcheon
Designer – Naomi Dawson
Lighting Designer – Lee Curran
Sound Designer – Matt Padden
Animation – Lou Sumray
Production Manager – Helen Mugridge
Technical Stage Manager – Ciara Shrager
Mirabel continues its run at Ovalhouse, London, until Saturday 17 November. you can buy tickets here or by phoning the box office on 020 7582 7680.