Thursday, October 17, 2019

Review: 'Mission Creep' at the White Bear Theatre, 16th October 2019

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

Bee Scott's Mission Creep feels as if was germinated from a thought experiment to discover under what circumstances an asexual person would have sex. The answer is that the world would have to literally be ending and penetrative sex would be the only possible way to escape the planet. 

Here's the precise situation the play sets up. Nuclear war has begun and, one by one, cities are being destroyed. So far Britain remains relatively secure, though much of society has broken down, with many abandoning their responsibilities in favour of hedonism. Faced with humanity becoming extinct, the British Government has made a deal with an alien race to send a couple into space. On an alien planet they will breed under the watchful eyes of the aliens, thus ensuring that while Earth might be destroyed the human race will at least continue.

Liam and Tess (Charlie Maguire and Emilia Stawicki) are flatmates, best friends and they want off this lousy planet. Thing is, Charlie is bisexual and has a boyfriend and Emilia is asexual - but they think they can pull the wool over eyes of their assessor Mary (Carmella Brown) and secure the spot on the rocket out of here. After all, once the world is destroyed who will care? And it's not like the aliens actually know what human sex looks like.

It's a high concept plot for an hour-long play with a set consisting of just two chairs and a couple of cardboard boxes. And yet Mission Creep manages to squeeze an awful lot into its short run-time. First and foremost this is a comedy (a funny one!) about a ludicrous situation in which two people must pretend to be something they're not. The contortions as to how the couple can wriggle out of actually having sex with one another are great, as is the farcical way events quickly spiral out of control. 

There's also a serious undercurrent. The characters are caricatures, but their reactions to the world ending aren't played for laughs. We see them receive texts on which cities have been destroyed, asking the others if they knew anyone there. Scott displays a deft and economical hand with exposition, giving us just enough information about the state of the world to let us fill in the blanks. 

Perhaps the more out-there stuff breaks the naturalism - but the play speeds along at such a brisk pace that it's easy enough to paper over anything that doesn't really make sense. And anyway, the characters react to it in such a matter-of-fact way that you buy into it too.

It's an entertaining hour, and it's nice to see an asexual character in a play that's not specifically about asexuality. It would be too didactic to make this situation just a direct exploration of how asexual people deal with relationships and pressure to conform to accepted models of desire and sexuality, but Mission Creep manages this without feeling like it's getting preachy. Best of all, Tess' asexuality is merely a facet of her character rather than the entirety of it.

There are a couple of rough edges though, specifically in the ending of the play. It's obvious that a micro-budgeted play like this can't actually go through with depicting the science-fiction events discussed, but the chosen ending feels too abrupt. It feels as if the story is about to head into a final act just as the curtain comes down on these characters. On top of that there's the occasional dud line and repetitive story element, and perhaps the play leans a little too hard on characters receiving text messages to drive the story forward.

But I can forgive a lot when it comes to a modest play with big ambitions. Mission Creep is concise, interesting and funny - qualities that many much more extravagant plays often lack.

Mission Creep is at the White Bear Theatre Pub until 19th October. Tickets here.

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