How to explain Karagula… Well, it starts with two teenagers who look like they could have been extras in Grease. Except this isn’t 1950s America, it’s some bizarre, dystopian place (I’m not even sure if it was a city or a country) called Mareka where everything is very pink, they drink milkshake religiously and every year the prom king and queen are assassinated. The assassin is then revealed and everyone else hunts them down to give them their comeuppance – murder is treated like a sport. One couple manages to escape this tradition, which sets the rest of the play into action.
From there I was lost. The storyline isn’t linear, which would be fine except there are too many strands to follow and they never really seem to come together. Sure, at the end everyone is in one place, but by this point so much has happened that it’s hard to know how we even got there or how much time has passed. Perhaps those more familiar with Philip Ridley’s work would find it easier to follow, as he is known for his intricate dystopian dramas and has received many awards for his previous work.
In hindsight, the themes of this play are rather close to home. Everyone is desperate to believe in something and are willing to do whatever it takes to protect their beliefs – even if it means shedding some blood. There are also lots of different characters to follow, which is a challenge for the audience but even more so for the cast. It’s always highly impressive to see actors multitask, but there is just so much to keep track of that it’s hard not to be in awe of the actors, even if you have no idea what’s going on or who they’re meant to be.
It certainly is an ambitious show and that is clear through the staging and design. The audience are placed on either side of the stage in a way that makes the show somewhat immersive but also highly uncomfortable (well, what did you expect from a dystopia?). The costumes are particularly impressive and look like they were made from materials that designer Shawn Soh just happened to find. The set is also pretty special and manages to fit a lot into a tiny space. After the interval, the audience is led back into the auditorium using a different entrance and the room is completely unrecognisable from the first half.
It’s quite violent and for a stage production there’s a lot of blood, so this isn’t really one for the faint-hearted. I won’t be rushing back to see this one (but then again, Game of Thrones is too violent for my taste…).
Karagula plays at The Styx in Tottenham Hale until 9 July. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website. Photo: Lara Genovese