Pros: A show-stealing turn by Mandi Symonds that contains moments that would be at home in Monty Python. She bangs the drum in a way I’m sure John Cleese would approve of.
Cons: It tries to fit too many ideas into its 90 minutes, making it a little confusing in places.
Having spent what felt like half of 2016 at Theatre503, returning felt like crawling back to a former lover who I hoped would accept me back with open arms. Thankfully, the warm welcome offered the moment I walked up the stairs from the pub suggested that my absence was being forgiven. So it was that I found myself present to witness Boom, a laugh-a-minute comedy about the impending destruction of all mankind, a virgin scientist hoping to repopulate the planet, and a fish called Dorothy.
Writer Peter Sinn Nachtrieb cites Monty Python and Richard Dawkins as influences, and Boom, a play that is half farce, half a take on evolution, is undoubtedly wearing those influences big and bold. Just as big and bold is the completely over-the-top performance of Mandi Symonds as Barbara. Her silent appearance on the stage as she prepares herself, taking her seat in the corner and proceeding to bang her drum, is itself worthy of being a Monty Python sketch. Without a word spoken she already has the audience laughing out loud.
Boom is a little confusing in places as you struggle to piece together what is happening. After Symonds takes her seat, she observes mostly silently from the wings as Jules and Jo, played by Will Merrick and Nicole Sawyerr, get acquainted. It’s not long before the situation unfolds. Jo has answered an online ad and has turned up expecting, as the ad promises, sex that will change the course of the world. It’s just that while she thinks it means that Jules must be a stud in bed, in fact his definition is remarkably different. He slowly explains that the human race is about to be annihilated, and so the ad was placed to find someone to help him repopulate the planet. It’s quite a big ask of anyone, never mind the small matter that he is a gay virgin! As Jo suggests at one point, perhaps a questionnaire would have helped to ensure they were compatible rather than just picking a girl at random. And that’s just the first scenes.
For most of the first half, it’s all about Jules and Jo. They skirt about their different takes on that world-changing sex, and then, as it becomes clear that Jules may not be quite as insane as he first appeared, the focus shifts onto their relationship as they try to live together in the confined space. All the while, Barbara is sitting, watching, occasionally pulling her levers and banging her drum. It’s clear something is afoot. Occasionally she turns from observer to key player, pausing the action to talk directly to the audience, explain scenes, or complain about the management. And slowly her real purpose becomes clear. It’s here you start to see the second of Nachtrieb’s influences – that of Richard Dawkins.
From hereon out, Boom has two stories going on. On one hand is the relationship between Jules and Jo, completely incompatible and yet forced together in the underground bunker, both with very different desires. On the other, the story of Barbara; who is she, what is she, what are all those levers, why does she look so insanely happy when she bangs her drum?
Boom works best in its moments of physical comedy, when Barbara is dominating proceedings. However, the superb writing and the occasional great one-liner adds that extra something that makes this a show well worth seeing, and one that hardly wavers for its full 90 minutes.
And, as ever, it’s a testament to Theatre503 that they have once again come up with a gem that demonstrates why this is a place that demands your return.