‘Mr Burns, A Post-Electric Play’ (2023) Manchester School of Theatre review – powerfully unnerving

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Photography: Ben Redshaw 

Sean Aydon directs the final year BA (Hons) Acting students in a powerfully unnerving adaptation of Anne Washburn’s ‘Mr Burns, A Post-Electric Play’, courtesy of Manchester School of Theatre. The play follows American survivors following an apocalyptic nuclear disaster, trying to remember an episode of The Simpsons.

Gathering around a campfire, a small group opens the show. The intensity in the scene is clear; their discussion is lighthearted, but they appear unable to relax. Connected through the episode of ‘Cape Feare’, the strangers open up to one another, dropping in hints of context to the nature of the apocalypse. When another survivor enters the stage, the group pulls out weapons in panic. Then follows a desperately sad scene telling of searches for lost loved-ones and unanswered questions.

Brought forward seven years, we see the group now working as a travelling theatre company. This act is addictive, with underivative costumes adding to the hilariously garish musical numbers. Although there are undertones of deep loss, it’s not hard to see how much fun the team have had working on this. Nejc Lisjak as Gibson delivers an intense and emotive display of panic at losing his memory. 

Upon re-entering the Manchester Metropolitan University theatre for the final act, the room is transformed by Chloe Wyn’s incredible set design. The backdrop took three weeks to build, using her own handprints to paint every section of the stage. 75 years on from the first scene, the show closes with a musical debut, based on ‘Cape Feare’.

While the story has lost most of its connection to the original play, we see a similar grapple to understand the new world within the context of the character’s memories. A notable difference is Sideshow Bob, who has been replaced by the evil nuclear-plant owner Mr Burns. Costume design is impeccable, a chorus of students enter in primitive clothing and uncanny white eyelids. The Simpsons themselves are donning Greek tragedy-inspired masks. 

Assistant director Lara Rose Hancox told us that while musicals typically get six weeks to prepare, the team had only five: “The fact they managed to pull this off is incredible and a testament to MST, the students just have so much passion and talent.”

Filled with musical references, from Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ to Eminems ‘Lose Yourself’, the act is hysterically unsettling. Through the passage of time, we see the narrative become intertwined with the characters. Simple concepts of love and hate are tackled as the survivors create a world they can comprehend through theatre. The resulting production is poignant yet truly insane, serving as a reminder that our stories always survive us.

Mr Burns completes the Autumn season for Manchester School of Theatre.

For all highlights of the shows and information on future productions, check out the MST website and follow @mst_acting

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Jess Berry

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