Review: Mannequin Mouth’s ‘Armageddon Baby’

Six housemates are confronted with the end of the world knocking ferociously at their front door. With no chance of stopping it, they plan to use their final evening to go out with a bang. An intriguing mix of irrational and logical, panicked and patient, attacker and victim, these housemates are an unlikely – and unlikeable – bunch, and their Armageddon party will only degenerate already unstable relationships within themselves and each other.

From the directors of EUTCo’s Lord of the Flies, Will Pinhey and India Howland have written and produced another gorey thriller through their own theatre company: Mannequin Mouth. The production certainly demonstrated the “raw and visceral” writing their company promises, with Armageddon Baby treading a thin line between impressive and repulsive.

This exclusive production is performed in two parts, in secret locations with tickets allocated via an elite ballot. The first section takes place innovatively in the garden of a student house; iron stairs up the left, a patio area and a small brick wall. This creative yet limited space works perfectly with the desperate situation of the housemates.

The cast excelled in this first section, their chaotic and neurotic energy at such a high that you could only expect at the end of the world. While Bishop (Samuel Nicholls) is anxious and pacing, threatening anything with a baseball bat he’s incompetent at using, Kipper (McCauley Keeper) is eerily at ease, simply spectating the destruction that unfolds around him. We meet the eccentric Kitty (Jemima Beauchamp), gothic Cookie (Laura Jackson), drug-dealer and rapist Spade (Charlie Howard), and the mysteriously unknowable Norton (Harvey Wright). Finally, there is Lana (India Howland), who remains invisible, yet unforgettable. This cast are insanely talented, and talented at being insane. Through their frantic interactions, suspenseful glares and violent outbursts, they construct a tense and harrowing atmosphere that keeps the audience on its toes, while the thunderous heavy rain fortunately contributed to the apocalyptic scenario.

This first section was by far my preferred one. The second took on a far more degenerated and disturbed vibe, which, in all honesty, crossed the boundary of theatre I enjoy. While intending to make the audience as uncomfortable as possible, most of us seemed more repulsed and confused than anything. The grotesque aspects of the production are intensified, the dialogue appearing Beckettian in its madness and pretentious meaninglessness. Struggling to remember themselves or each other, the characters regress into their younger, primal selves; the babies of the Armageddon. While Mannequin Mouth is honest in its “raw and visceral” image, the second part favoured revulsion over meaning, and more trigger warnings should certainly be attached to the show’s publicity.

While I’m attempting not to spoil the plot, I must acclaim Jemima Beauchamp on her astounding performance in this second act, as Kitty’s insanity took on a new level. Her overtly sexual attitude stopped being amusing as it was evidently a response to her trauma, and her interactions with her own hallucinations were so precise and strikingly sincere that it made for a truly haunting performance. Shocking and impressive, Beauchamp led this second act into its hysteria.

I was, however, less impressed with Lana, not at all due to the acting ability of co-director Howland, but through the decision to make the character visible. In the first act, Lana held such authority through an invisible face shouting from the upstairs window; seeing, hearing, remembering everything, she had gentle yet persuasive control over the group through a god-like omnipotence.  Yet in becoming visible, Lana lost the full weight of her power. She becomes human, troubled, confusing, and as scared as the others. I wish she had remained faceless, but perhaps her visibility intended to remove any god-like figure from such a godless state.

Overall, Armageddon Baby is technically impressive in its ability to disturb and repulse, and the cast are extraordinarily talented in their energetic and maddening portrayals. Full of ket, chaos, and decapitated cats, the show is enjoyable to those of a specific taste who can stomach it, though I’m not sure that includes myself.

Eleanor-Rose Gordon

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