Atlantis, Broadsword Theatre LTD, Daniel McGravie, Edinburgh Fringe, Environmentalism, Fraser Nickolls, Greenside @ Infirmary Street, Jade McQuillan, Martina Vondrova, Sam Eastop, Sam Eastop's Atlantis, Theatre Review
[The following contains spoilers.]
Matthew (Sam Eastop) is the godhead of a utopian island community called Atlantis. With his eerie calmness, he looks both like he could be any cinematic supervillain and any particularly intense yoga teacher. No leader of a utopian community is ever deterred by the failures of the thousands of other such communities that have gone before. Yet, hilariously, the specific element that sets apart Atlantis is that it has been built entirely upon that post-Blue-Planet reviling of single-use plastics. In the inevitable patois, it is a refuge for all of those escaping from the “plastic pandemic.”
The figure of the supreme cult leader is today so clichéd that Matthew is for a while in danger of seeming plastic himself. In any case, although the evocation of such a familiar character is here surprisingly vivid, the play knows that it would be unwise to stick with Matthew for very long. It instead latches on to two newbies at Atlantis, a married couple from London called Ben (Fraser Nickolls) and Nel (Jade McQuillan).
They selfishly assume that Atlantis will comprise a kind of spiritual detox, up until Ben learns that sex is also forbidden on the island. There is perhaps something for you to notice here. Sex has been banned purely to avert “procreation,” which possibly shows that Matthew’s anti-plastic regime does not so much object to sex as to the condoms.
From the great swill of last year’s Fringe, one of the plays to really stick in my teeth was Eastop’s viciously frightening horror production “Hotel.” This had been shown at the Nicolson Square Greenside, whereas “Atlantis” is at the Infirmary Street one. It is more ethical no doubt to review “Atlantis” wholly on its own terms, though it soon becomes difficult not to compare it to Eastop’s earlier play.
There is perceptibly a shared aesthetic. Both are horror stories that observe the travails of visitors at a luxurious but increasingly ominous getaway or resort. Each play hones in on the personal circumstances of otherwise minor characters, with “Atlantis” pausing over the moral confusion of an Eastern European migrant (Martina Vondrova). I’m afraid, though, that “Hotel” had functioned on the whole rather better than “Atlantis” does.
It does not matter if the characters in a horror story are somewhat cursory if they have been made simply to be tortured or devoured. But the horror in “Atlantis” is psychological, in sprouting ultimately from the sharp bewilderment that results from Ben and Nel’s separation. It does matter, therefore, that they never quite sound like a couple who have been together for eight years. We never gain enough of a handle on them for their distress to feel keen enough.
The leap forward in time at the end of the story is nimble and sure-footed, but the conclusion is still unduly flat or a bit too wry. Maybe we had been looking forward to something more spectacular – to this Atlantis being sunken like its classical namesake. I don’t wish to sound querulous because there is really a lot within “Atlantis” to admire. It is refreshingly un-politically-correct for Fringe theatre, with environmentalist and Me-Too sentiments being for once not treated as eggshells that need to be stepped on with trepidation. The play certainly makes its performances go a long way, but its horror does not fall straight and the blow is deflected. The horror that is promised by the suspense and the skilful writing never in fact satisfactorily rears its head.