When reviewing a performance, there is a nagging feeling of being hampered by that otherwise dependable writing companion, the notepad. It can serve to distract us from the events taking place on stage. The extent to which the critic may fail to comprehend a particular moment, because they’re squinting through the darkness at some scribbled notes, is alarming. Therefore, I have devised an acid test. Upon the rare occasion that I emerge from the auditorium without a single word written down, the likelihood of having witnessed a true blinder is assured. Mission Drift is one such performance. The TEAM has created a theatrical tour-de-force that pulsates with relentless energy and moral purpose. Mission Drift is a neon-lit, dust-scattered fable of the American dream gone awry. Its interweaving of contemporary concerns with historical narratives, and its viscerally stirring soundtrack of soul and blues, come together to form an anarchically thrilling and ambitious whole.
The story concerns Joan (Amber Gray), a waitress in Las Vegas who is laid off in the aftermath of the 2008 stock market crash. She meets Chris (Ian Lassiter), a cowboy living a solitary life on the outskirts of the Nevada desert. Their romance is a small ember of hope amidst the decaying environment taking root around them — bankruptcy, unemployment and abandoned homes have eroded the former neon glory of the desert capital. Meanwhile, in 1624, Catalina (Libby King) and Joris (Brian Hastert), Dutch newly-weds desperate to make their fortunes in the American heartland, head west on a giddy expedition of thinking big, building large and going broke; a ceaseless ritual of frontier-defying restlessness that explores the foundation myth of American capitalism.
Mission Drift is an ambitious yet thoughtful production. The TEAM have bravely chosen to bypass any kind of didactic approach (The Power of Yes does American free market capitalism, this is not…); instead, the performance becomes a sort of musical fable. It is overlaid by the musical styling of Heather Christian’s Miss Atomic, the sultry soulstress whose rich soundtrack of American blues, soul and gospel drives the proceedings with a large dose of emotional bombast along the way. On the subject of the songs, they’re all belters. Every single one. Christian’s singing is amazing, but her performance as Miss Atomic — the symbolic heart of the play — is equally enrapturing.
The speed with which we’re propelled across historical and geographical worlds is accomplished at breakneck pace. The TEAM have accomplished something truly special with their latest performance: the mish-mash of theatrical devices on display are weaved into something truly exciting, highly distinctive, yet never overly destabilising. Mission Drift is a playful deconstruction of the myth of the American frontier: a poetic study of the ingrained notion of exponential growth, with Joris and Catalina’s voyage west marking an unending cycle of creation and destruction.
Mission Drift is playing at the NT Shed at the National Theatre until 28 June. For more information and tickets, see the National Theatre website.