Mathilde Dratwa is the real deal. Her debut play is a riot, and not just because it opens with a woman giving birth on the same night Trump was elected, a biological process that I don’t doubt would fundamentally upset him. Across 90 daringly imaginative and blackly funny minutes, we watch this woman’s life begin to spiral, as she’s shellshocked by the chaos that reigns both inside and outside of her apartment.
Written in the snatched moments when her newborn son was napping, Dratwa’s play has a frenetic, hallucinatory quality to it that mirrors the experience of new mother Vera, subtly played by MyAnna Buring. Told by her husband (Matt Whitchurch, funny) during childbirth that Hillary won the election, Vera names her son Roddie. The truth comes out when her mother-in-law (Jenny Galloway, superb in a number of roles) turns up, cloyingly cooing “ya gonna have another one?”
Lisa Spirling, who directed the play with her baby daughter in the rehearsal room, meets the mad challenges of Dratwa’s surreal script with brio. Her production is playful and pacy, rattling through the short scenes with the help of Roly Botha’s sound design, which punctuates each one with dramatic CNN style music. The cast, all in multiple roles except Buring, look like they’re having a blast. Just occasionally it feels like 503’s small, scratchy stage can’t contain Dratwa’s rule-breaking writing, but, then again, it does bring an Alexa to life (Tracy-Anne Green), so maybe it’s unfair to quibble.
The play tries to pack a lot in, from global politics to discussions of privilege. Vera becomes increasingly unavailable to her friend Amira (Sherine Chalhie), and they argue about Vera’s sense of suffering in relation to Amira’s Syrian relatives. Vera says she’s broke, but Amira points out that her baby formula is imported from France. It’s at its most compelling, though, when exploring Vera’s loss of her sense of self. Navigating everything from targeted Facebook adverts for transvaginal mesh to trying to have sex with her husband again, she finds herself in a constant state of bewilderment and exhaustion.
One freewheeling sequence of scenes is like a funfair ride of genius. An FBI agent strides into Vera’s home to investigate the disappearance of a woman. “He’s the guy. He did it,” he announces, pointing at the cot. Next, Vera’s friends and family hold a funeral for her former self. “She had very good personal hygiene,” her mother declares. And then, Hillary Clinton climbs out of the TV. Oh, and Trump even turns up, in a pretty unexpected way.
Milk & Gall announces a unique new talent with a bang, but it’s also a reminder that teeny tiny theatres nestling above London’s pubs can often still be the place to hear thrilling new voices first. The return of venues like Theatre503, who punch above their weight and nurture talent, should be celebrated as much as the West End.
Theatre503, until November 27; theatre503.com