Angels and the Apocalypse – St John’s Players at The Theatre on the Hill

Written by Tony Millett on .

Angels and the Apocalypse  was inspired by the media furore surrounding forecasts that the world would end on 21 December 2012.  It turned out that the only thing ending on that day was a cycle of the ancient Mayan long calendar. But it certainly set the students of the St John’s Players thinking.

Front of stage: Tristan (Christopher Baker) talks with Jack (Edd France) in front of gang members & watched over by the Light AngelsFront of stage: Tristan (Christopher Baker) talks with Jack (Edd France) in front of gang members & watched over by the Light AngelsGuided by St John’s Academy’s Director of Drama and Theatre Studies, Cheri Whitehouse and teaching assistant Hoffi Munt, who both wrote the final script and directed the play, the students have devised a very striking, absorbing and thoughtful drama.

How much of this drama was down to the students? Cheri Whitehouse explains:  “Well, I had some core ideas and I knew where I wanted it to end up but basically, during the first rehearsal, I gave them the concept and asked them to imagine a world without oil, suggested that it would probably turn violent because of food shortages, and off they went!”

“Many of the scenes you saw were either completely devised by the students or the core of the scene was devised by them and then refined during scripting. They are very talented and it was a total collaboration.”

Starting with the assumption that the world as we know it ended in 2012 – no more oil, failing water supplies, constricted living space and no one growing food, where did their ideas go?  In this post doomsday world, the students’ drama follows a gang of survivors struggling in 2050 to sort out relationships, leadership and, indeed, how to go on surviving.

Violence rears its inevitable head. There are rivalries, incomers, and a threatening ‘compound’ of other survivors just across the forest. And there’s a brief and troubled love tangle between Cora and Joshua. The plot cleverly highlights and examines the moral dilemmas the gang face.

To lighten the load, there’s a thread of nostalgia for times past and tastes missed: “Nothing beats chocolate hob-nobs.”

And the angels? The ‘light’ (or good) angels are dressed in white, the ‘dark’ (or threatening) angels are in black.  They provide a very good device to ease the transition between a series of very short – almost television style – scenes. They act as supernatural stagehands to get the wounded on and off stage, and the dead bodies into the wings.

The scenes do follow each other very quickly, but there are well synchronised captions identifying the time and place of each scene.  To end the first act there was a really effective specially shot video - complete with final rifle shot - as Cora breaks into the compound in search of her missing parents.

The drama’s soundtrack came mainly from startlingly insistent drums – only changing as the final scenes unfolded into heart-rending strings.  

L to R: Tristan (Christopher Baker), his wounded sister Cora (Alex Watts) & Joshua (Henry Leigh)L to R: Tristan (Christopher Baker), his wounded sister Cora (Alex Watts) & Joshua (Henry Leigh)The second act was taken at a slower pace and was very moving. And by the end any fear that we would be left in some bleak dystopian future gave way to gentle optimism as the children who had joined the gang were taught how to plant seeds to provide food.

The script was sparse and clear. The acting was terrific. Alex Watts as Cora (“I know there’s a better way of living”) and Christopher Baker as Tristan – the main brother and sister adversaries – were outstanding.  As were Edd France as Jack – a very angry young man – and Maddie Blackwell as Amy his soundly moral but wavering sister.

If you had looked hard you could have found touches of Lord of the Flies, The Road, even perhaps the threatening mood ofThe Hunger Games, and touches of several paranormal, third age or ‘after-life’ movies – all softened by a little Romeo and Juliet.  But you didn’t look because the intensity of the plot, the words and the acting carried you along.

It was a hugely challenging drama, really well presented and acted.  A great achievement.

After curtain calls at the end of the second and final performance (February 22), a very grateful cast said tearful goodbyes to Cheri Whitehouse who is leaving St John’s.  That evening’s performance made it very obvious how much she will be missed.

Photos by Joanne Hutchings.