Mr Burns, A Post-Electric Play (Lightning Jar Theatre) – theatre review

If you’re a Simpsons fan, you’ll find immense enjoyment in Mr Burns, a novel adaptation of the iconic cartoon legacy. Split into three acts, the production gives you almost two hours of snippets from the series, skits and even a superb a cappella song bracket.

Photo: Sarah Walker

It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world. Clearly the world is a very dangerous place as the disparate group of young adults on stage pack weapons. In Act I, four of them sit around a fire and enthusiastically recount fine details of a Simpsons episode based on the 1991 movie Cape Fear. Their harmony is disrupted by the arrival of a stranger. His backpack is searched and who is heavily questioned. Before that chapter ends though, the stranger will be singing Gilbert and Sullivan.

Act II sees an expanded group of seven carefully rehearsing full Simpsons scenes, complete with props … when all hell breaks loose.

And Act III, involving eight performers, focuses on a very real threat to Bart Simpson and his family from a malevolent force – presumably Sideshow Bob – who looks like a rebirth of Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight. That dastardly demon is accompanied by acolytes of 1988’s Beetlejuice, supposedly Itchy and Scratchy from The Simpsons.

The transitions between acts are impressive, particularly the quantum leap taken in the third act. The set and costume designer is Sophie Woodward. At one point, the stage looks like a scene out of The Phantom of the Opera, but I dare not say any more for fear of spoiling the surprise. Suffice to indicate there is a further transformative experience.

How this all connects and what it means I’m not at all sure. Clearly the writer, Anne Washburn, and director John Kachoyan, along with musical director Andrew Patterson and the cast and crew have had a lot of fun putting the show together … and in messing with our heads.

On opening night the audience audibly reveled in the audaciousness of Mr Burns. I found the first act relatively slow going. I thought it needed cutting back. Not so after that though, when the pacing and mood picked up and the storyline moved on.

Photo: Sarah Walker

The multi-talented cast – most of whom fill multiple roles – gels particularly well, with a number of fine performances, including those from Dylan Watson and Mark Yeates. In fact, the way the show has been written encourages grandstanding and benefits as a result. Still, reeling off songs or parts thereof without musical accompaniment, one after another – which involves the collective – was hard to top.

Mr Burns, A Post-Electric Play is on at fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, until 10 March 2019.

Alex First

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