In this playfully unsettling production from Live A Little Theatre, the next stop is the twilight zone. Mighty hyphenate director/writer/actor Luke Sookdeo goes way past the end-of-pier into a strange pocket of oblivion, trapping his four characters in a sinister machine of fate and revelation. They may as well be helpless pawns manipulated by some cosmic gamer.

Into the eerily unpopulated arcade on the Brighton seafront wanders Mikey (Sookdeo), ostensibly looking for his tearaway friends, soon on his way to a music gig. He encounters hostile Meg (Molly Farquhar), the gobby sole occupant of the premises, engaged in an attempt to break through to top scorer in her favourite video game. She makes it more than clear that she does not want to share, trying her best to convince him to leave. She goes so far as to scrawl her name on the device, claiming ownership. They are soon joined by American teen tourist Britney (Bee Nickerson), desperate to use the bathroom. 

Their energy together is heightened, uneasy and edgy. Each is quick to defend themselves at perceived slights and personal attacks. Repelled in one another’s presence, there is nevertheless a force holding them in tight, merciless formation. When someone finally manages to break the uncanny grip, it is discovered that no one is able to escape as the front door has been sealed.

When Martin (a dazzling Shane Robert Saul) suddenly appears from the bathroom, claiming to have sought shelter from an approaching storm, any last semblance  of reality is eliminated. How is it that he managed to cross the floor without any one else seeing him? With his unnervingly formal, ethereal countenance and cadence, he is like an impish signal from another dimension altogether. A wolffish grin suggests he is armed with disarmingly dangerous knowledge and a plan to toy with the assembled. He is here to stir the atmosphere and expose to raw surface the primal fears of the trio, flaying every protective layer each has managed to build. With a Svengali flourish, he sets about dismantlement.

It is through the portal of Mystic Maggie (Thatcher), spouting aphorisms like an oracle, that each must accept a card, which then leads to an extraordinary disclosure, via video game screen, of each character’s greatest secret. That at least two of them could be considered casualties of Ms. Thatcher’s policies throughout her tenure is damning, although Sookdeo seems content enough to let the pointed suggestion suffice without tipping over to political agitprop.

As Martin reveals his own sordid history, and his role as some mythic gatekeeper grows more apparent, his focus shifts to one individual in particular, offering a reprieve for the others. He only ever wanted one, perhaps the one already irretrievably marooned. 

The interactions are electric throughout, sweaty and treacherous. The performers bring a tangible sense of panic as their undisclosed behaviours are dragged into the unforgiving light,  found out. Judged and named. All boasts and deflections and denials have been disabled. Sookdeo, Farquhar and Nickerson locate specific vulnerabilities under surfaces of rage and frenzied cheer, all greatly detailed. And Saul presides over it all with lip-smacking  Machiavellian bluster. Only in a few instances does the drama threaten to lose itself in hysterics. 

Sookdeo directs with focus and pace, using the cavernous space to his advantage. The cast barrels around this chamber like lost souls, lonely voices swallowed up, charting a vast yet restrictive terrain. They ping just like the little characters caught up in the compacted, constricted and programmed universes of the arcade games. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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