Mission: Accomplished

Mission Drift – The Shed, National Theatre, until 28 June (some tickets available)

You can’t fail to notice the The Shed, the National Theatre’s striking addition to London’s Southbank. It looks a little like a student’s upturned IKEA table. In bright red. Walking into this new temporary venue, which on the inside is somewhat reminiscent of The Young Vic, is quite an adventure in itself; the smell of new wood, a wonderfully up close and personal stage area, visible stage management and technical. I like it already.

The Shed or Battersea Power Station after an elaborate student prankThe idea behind The Shed is for The National Theatre to celebrate original, ambitious and unexpected new theatre in an excitingly small venue. And on this level, boy does Mission Drift deliver.

Created by New York based The TEAM, Mission Drift is a stunning, well-crafted and inventive musical, yes it’s a musical, which takes us on a whirlwind journey through the American dream. From Las Vegas to New Amsterdam, covering 400 years of political and economic history (atomic bombs, economic downturns, slavery, prospecting, gambling; it’s all here), we follow two couples on their pioneering adventures.

In the world we recognise is Joan; a cocktail waitress laid off from her job and alienated from Las Vegas – the city she once lived for. Joan’s life is changed by the arrival of a mysterious and beguiling

Mission Drift's take on Americana

stranger who offers her a way out of everything she knows. And loves. This is equated to the mythical journey undertaken by two 14 year olds, Catalina and Joris, setting sail from Europe with the Dutch West India Company to start a new dream, in a land where space, as well as life, is cheap.

All of this is overseen by Miss Atomic (Heather Christian), an all at once alluring and repulsive figure who epitomises the best and worst of American capitalism. Her narration is funny, sleazy and engaging – a clever way of holding this bubbling pot of ideas together. She has a voice that grabs you by the balls and dominates the space. I wish her character could have been more intertwined with the two couples but it was a stunning and strong performance that captured the fragility of the American Dream perfectly.

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A reflection: 10 years on

Decade – Headlong, St Katherine’s Docks – Until 15th October

There is no doubt that Decade, Headlong’s collaborative theatrical response to 9/11, reaches moments that are powerfully affecting, even for those with no direct ties to the event. The strongest of these in Decade are where we see the butterfly effect in action; the ripples that change the course of someone’s life, years after the event.

We witness a woman engaged in an increasingly manic speed dating event, plagued both by eczema and a need for security and strength, ultimately unable to commit as she is unable to let go of her husband who died. A group of survivor wives meet every year at a coffee shop within sight of the Ground Zero. The audience are shown the scenes in reverse; a tricksy device suffers from the law of diminishing returns in its final scenes but does function as a powerful reminder of the long shadow cast by 9/11. The wives are unable to grieve in any understandable way, holding on to brittle bonds artificially-forged in the tragedy; held together by a sense of duty and continually reinforced by the sight of presidential candidates solemnly appearing at the site as part of carefully stage-managed campaigns.

Also outstanding is Tobias Menzies portrayal of a man recollecting his account of watching the Tower’s collapse after booking the day off. The audience’s awareness of events lends Menzies’ flat affectless delivery a heart-breaking quality. As we hear, with an Alan Bennett like focus on the absurdity in the mundane, a description of the day before and an ensuring phonecall to the office just after a plane hit the first time, there is a tragic inevitably in the growing awareness there won’t be Hollywood happy endings. Later we find that as a result of his experiences he has edged close to the ‘Truther’ movement; desperately trying to find meaning in his unanswered questions.

Not everything was crafted so successfully, a muscular, Mamet-ish duologue between journalist and a soldier involved in the death of Osama Bin Laden, began promisingly with the conversation hurled across the audience in staccato bursts reminiscent of machine-gun fire. However the contrivance of building a link to a relative who died in the Pentagon began to pull the characters apart at the seams and strain credulity. Continue Reading Here