Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Review: 'The Milkman Cometh' at The Pleasance, 8th October 2019

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

I've never liked milk. Even before I was aware of the ethical and environmental implications, milk freaked me out. I still remember being handed a miniature bottle of the stuff every day in primary school, it always smelt more rancid than the stuff you'd get in supermarkets and to get to it you had to carve through a thick plug of cream-like substance (possibly cream) with a straw. It was disgusting.

This dislike and suspicion of milk has extended into adulthood. I like my coffee black and if I have cereal it's sitting in delicious coconut milk. Even the scientific description of the milk sounds disgusting: "an emulsion of butterfat globules within a water-based fluid that contains dissolved carbohydrates and protein aggregates." Blegh.

So, when I was invited to kick off the London Horror Festival with DeadPlant Theatre's bizarre-sounding post-apocalyptic dairy comedy The Milkman Cometh, I jumped at the chance. Even if nothing else will horrify me, milk definitely will. Plus, the show had a live score by a band called 'Fuck Slurry', and if I've learned one thing over the years it's that bands with 'Fuck' in their name are almost always worth seeing.

Written by Alice Bounce, Maxwell Tyler and Owen Jenkins, the show takes place in a dairy-free future. With climate change heating up, the world's government blamed it on cows' farts - and decided to incinerate them en masse. This resulted in a gigantic conflagration that turned the world (and especially the UK) all Mad Max. Enter a Liz (Lydia Hourihan) a mysterious woman warrior. Her bike Deirdre has run out of gas in the vicinity of the mysterious village of Cud.

This proves to be just about the worst place she could have broken down. Despite cows being extinct, Cud has a steady supply of milk. It's provided by a mysterious milkman the town worships - but where can be getting this milk? Our woman warrior is about to discover the horrible truth...

Said horrible truth isn't particularly difficult to figure out, but various revelations are impressively twisted and disgusting. The whole show is satisfyingly gross actually: with the way it takes a deep dive into the concept of milk as a bodily fluid successfully turning my stomach more than once. The precise twists and turns of the narrative (which I won't spoil) mean DeadPlant Theatre easily lives up to their sick and surreal reputation.

They're also a finely honed comedy machine. The five-strong cast (Dominic Allen, James Keningale, Alice Bounce and Owen Jenkins) bounce off one another with the rhythm of people who know each other's timings perfectly. They have a collective talent for the intensely grotesque, with the team neatly capturing a The League of Gentlemen-style camp-but-still-terrifying freakshow of stooped backs, squinty eyes and hungry leers. Next to the villagers, Liz makes for a striking heroine, her body language alone making her appear alien when she's in their midset.

And yeah, Fuck Slurry were awesome. I think most plays would be improved by having a beardy metal band at the rear of the stage. Purposefully silly and surreal comedy like this often comes across as affected, but the metal soundtrack provides much-needed grit and texture. It adds to the post-apocalyptic griminess of the piece and sounds great to boot.

The Milkman Cometh also has brevity on its side. It's just an hour long and is all killer no filler. The plot trots along at a quick pace, Katherine Timms' direction is precise and clear, there isn't a redundant minute and every single character is deftly sketched out. I had a whale of a time, with a big smile plastered over my face for most of the show and pursed lips at some of the more genuinely gross-out moments. 

I just hope that was water I was sprayed with as the lights went out at the end...

The Milkman Cometh is at The Pleasance until 10th October 2019. Tickets here.

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