For a fledgling theatre company putting together their debut show, it must be tricky to know where to begin. Riddled Image neatly sidestep that problem by starting at the end – that is, with death. Specifically, the death of one of their number… they just haven’t quite figured out which one yet. Over a frantic 50-minute runtime, the five-strong ensemble invent fantastical scenarios to kill off one another to avoid filling the grave themselves. The results are unpredictable, off-the-wall and hugely enjoyable.
Despite being a scripted show, the set-up of And Then They Died appears to take improv as its inspiration, with each character endowed with the ability to command the others’ movement until another intervenes. It’s the idea of never blocking another performer taken to its extreme, with no holds barred on wacky plotlines or non-sequitur responses. And of course, it always ends in a death; that fact is one semblance of structure in an otherwise higgledy-piggledy hodgepodge of half-baked stories and whimsical flights of fancy.
For the most part, it works. Each of the actors bounce off each other well, with all of them charming the audience at different points and none letting the side down in terms of acting ability or comic timing. There are repeated attempts to deconstruct the fourth wall, all of which point to an intelligence behind the apparent anarchy and help to create a piece of meta-theatre which is as witty as it is wayward.
Unfortunately, that lack of direction does detract from the plot towards the end of proceedings, as its meandering path loses some of the momentum built in the fast-paced opening; one scene of repetition in particular is guilty of putting the brakes on proceedings while adding little of value. The conclusion does pull things back to some semblance of a satisfying resolution, even if it’s one that’s slightly confusing and nonsensical.
This is a show whose parts are greater than its sum total; all five performers are impeccable and some of their set-pieces are delightfully bizarre. But the whole shebang could do with some stripping away of the flab and a greater sense of overall cohesion to turn it from a pleasant show into a prodigious one. Still, as a first (but returning) stab from Riddled Image, it’s an excellent effort and a very positive sign of things to come from a talented troupe of performers.