Karagula at The Styx
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Philip Ridley’s latest dystopian offering is a step away from his pared-back productions of recent years. Striking out from the smaller, one and two handers like Dark Vanilla Jungle and Tender Napalm, Karagula has the kind of scale and ambition that is rarely seen on an Off-West End stage; a sci-fi romp spanning several hours, hinting at countless influences, and introducing over 50 characters. It is impressive to say the least.

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Audiences are brought into the nation of Mareka; a sinister, almost Lynchian town whose way of life is based on fragments of 1960’s America. This is a sickly sweet, pink world of milkshakes, apple pies and ritualised murder – a place where lunacy simmers beneath Southern charm. The assassination of JFK has become ritualised, with Prom Night seeing elected Prom Kings ceremoniously murdered each year. Anyone questioning this way of life is swiftly handled with an insect bite or banishment to the desert.

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If this wasn’t enough to focus on, the scenes hop between time and space to visit other worlds; a civilisation that aims to wipe out religion, memories, and love with disastrous consequences; an uprising of telepathic rebels; lost forest children who worship a snow globe. It’s a lot to take in, although a common thread is provided by the love story at the heart of this web of plotlines and its effects across generations. This method of storytelling draws parallels to Cloud Atlas that are difficult to ignore.

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While the non-linear nature is fascinating, occasionally it borders on confusing – and the three hours or more it takes to come to a conclusion felt, at times, a little exhausting. Props must be given to the tireless ensemble cast of nine who hurtle through the extensive character list, with notable performances from Lanre Malaolu and Obi Abili. Director Max Barton manages Ridley’s work well too, navigating the many scene and character changes with speed to keep the momentum going.

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Shawn Soh’s designs cleverly transform the large performance space – a converted ambulance depot in Tottenham Hale – to navigate the play’s many worlds. While at times a little budget, they are generally strikingly beautiful and inventive; providing unexpected moments of intimacy while at all times reinforcing the production’s Sci-Fi credentials and sense of scale.

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This is a production that certainly does not lack ambition – although at times this leads to its own detriment. Sci-Fi epics can often feel dated or unsuitable for the stage; however, while not without its faults, this sprawling fantasy is one that few could pull off. Darkly funny and poignant (albeit a little ridiculous) it is worth seeing, particularly as its themes of war, fanatics and intolerance feel so pertinent to today.

Karagula is on at Styx, Tottenham Hale until July 9th. You can buy your tickets here.

Images courtesy of Laura Genovese Naiad.