Brokenville, the summer offering from Oldham Coliseum’s Young Rep Company, is set in a post-apocalyptic world where everyone has forgotten who they are. Survivors gather onstage, but unable to share their names or histories, they identify each other by distinguishing visual features: Glitter, Bruise, Satchel, Tattoo. Stripped of social conventions, they build a fire and gather around it to tell each other fairy stories.
Behind this cast is a secondary group of fairytale characters, who come to life whenever they feature in the stories. Philip Ridley’s script cleverly blurs the line between real and imagined by having characters take the fairytale roles – the handsome, arrogant Quiff becomes the Prince whilst Satchel is the wizard, Glitter the Princess, and so on. Unfortunately, this mirroring isn’t consistent – sometimes the characters narrate their fairytale counterparts, sometimes they share lines, and at other times there is no correlation at all.
Additionally, these pairings only tell the audience so much about the characters – for instance, Bruise realises that she is pregnant because she is perpetually cast as a childbearing Queen – but with more time spent on the fairytales than the ‘real life’ narrative, this is inevitable. There is no mention of the disaster that befell the world, or what has happened since.
The set – a sea of objects littered across the stage, dotted with glowing candles – looks like the aftermath of a disaster and yet has an oddly magical feel. This atmosphere is enhanced by the constant music played live onstage, which features an overturned shopping trolley played as a xylophone. The only issue is space – the storytelling characters, who for the most part are sat round the fire, take up the majority of the stage. Meanwhile, the fairytale characters have to enact their decidedly more energetic tales on a narrow, raised platform at the back of the stage, which looks awkward.
Stories set in post-apocalyptic worlds can sometimes be a bit bleak, but there is plenty of humour in Brokenville to prevent this. The swaggering, conceited Prince and the Witch in love with him are particularly amusing, while the happy reception of the morbid, blood-stained stories by the little girl character is a dark comic twist.
Crucially though, each fairytale has its own moral message: bad people meet bad ends, the rich should share their wealth, love conquers all. By remembering these messages, the characters prove that even in the wake of disaster, human spirit is unbroken and love has prevailed – an uplifting conclusion to Brokenville.