Help! We Are Still Alive is a refreshing take on the anti-survivor. Featuring a couple who got lucky and waited out the apocalypse, it’s enjoyable to watch how normal people like you and I would cope and survive. Unlike normal movie heroes, the protagonists are sensitive, vulnerable, and scared of rats. Yet, they still display bravery: there is a reason they are there and no one else is.
We arrive to a messy, post-apocalyptic set: immediately it’s clear what has happened. The audience surrounds three sides of the stage, with a small central platform as a performance area, separating the actors from all the people. It’s papier-machéd in newspapers and old movie posters – classics, such as Pulp Fiction, Titanic, Grease. Designer Lu Herbert creates an effective environment, which hints towards the characters we are about to meet: two normal and unlikely survivors, both missing their days of being able to consume pop culture, with their only way to experience it now to re-enact films from memory. Who knew watching Castaway with Wilson portrayed by a potato could be so emotional?!
The thrust stage works well. Despite the Seven Dials Playhouse having tiered seating, there are two rows of audience on either side of the stage. Their proximity includes them in the show, despite the main complication in Jass (Jade Johnson) and Finn’s (Elijah Ferreira) relationship being that they are alone. It’s amusing when this is mentioned repeatedly, to a point they’ve written a sign in big letters (“Help! We are still alive” if you haven’t guessed yet), but audience members are less than a metre away, in a room full of people. This is a poetic nod to their relationship issues. Even when there were other people around pre-apocalypse, their relationship became an island; only the two of them, one over-dependent on the other. Their friends were distanced in fear of showing their true selves too much; in touching distance but entirely inaccessible.
The use of a dictaphone (found in an abandoned Argos) allows the characters to tell the audience about their lives in this post-apocalyptic world. We learn details – unremarkable things that you’d just want to know, such as how they’re finding food and how they entertain themselves. It also serves as a device enabling them to vent their feelings, offering hope that maybe someday someone will listen to their recordings. These moments create a detailed background for the two, revealing more about their characters, their relationship, and the state of the country (which is arguably better: no NHS means no dreaded NHS waiting lists!). The props generally work well, helping set the scene of their chaotic landscape and makeshift home.
Tim Gilvin’s music and lyrics perfectly accompany the storyline, disclosing more about Jass and Finn. There are uplifting songs confessing revelations of their new lives, alongside heartbreaking moments where they clash with each other, and with their own feelings. Johnson and Ferreira have beautiful voices that complement each other well, alongside brilliant energy and stage presence. Some physical theatre movements, however, appeared slightly under-rehearsed.
As the play reaches a turning point, Jass becomes driven to find other people, whilst Finn remains content with the way things are. It demonstrates how the same problems transcend into the new post-world. Ultimately the couple need other people in order to survive with each other. It’s wonderfully real, with the emotions and feelings illustrating how perfectly this play treads the line of fantasy and real life. It’s a world that is truly imaginable, while they represent people we know and love, simply trying to survive with just each other.
Book & Lyrics by: Imogen Palmer
Music & Lyrics by: Tim Gilvin
Directed by: Georgie Rankcom
Musical Direction by: Ben McQuigg
Set and Costume Design by: Lu Herbert
Lighting Design by: Lucía Sánchez Roldán
Sound Design by: Simon Arrowsmith
Produced by Grey Area Theatre Company
Help! We Are Still Alive plays at Seven Dials Playhouse until 15 October. Further information and bookings can be found here.