I don’t bat an eyelid any more when someone talks about a "post-apocalyptic" USA; if anything, I feel those times are on us now. Squeaky Wheels have come all the way from America with a show about survivors, banding together in a bunker after a nuclear holocaust. A bit of humour, and a lot of tension and clashing egos, add up to a potentially interesting take on human character faced with extreme trauma.
Rather than using conventional names, characters are described by where they are from; soon we've met Alabama, Wichita and Denver. As the radiation outside reaches critical levels and more and more people are looking for safety, the initial three are joined by four others – a couple (Philly & NYC) and a pair of siblings (Tampa & Orlando).
What follows can only be described as organised chaos. The group debates how to survive: their rations are dwindling, they aren’t sure if the water they are drinking is contaminated and they don’t really trust each other. Arguments constantly break out until a somewhat-leader is chosen. Love makes an appearance too, as Denver develops a crush on Tampa, and the others try to set them up together.
The cast is changes slightly for different performances of the show. On the day I saw them, Freddie Fulton did a particularly fine job as Alabama, as did Leah Bezozo as Tampa. Alabama's revelation of his personal circumstances and sharing of his name added a tender and human moment, and I enjoyed Tampa's character progression from a girl in her brother's shadow to a confident woman who stands up for her own choices.
The cast's stage presence is good, but the writing lets them down a little. It lacks intensity for much of the running time; I was expecting tensions to heighten earlier in the show, rather than waiting for the last five or ten minutes. The script relies on revelations about the individual characters, but to settle into their world, I needed to hear more about how this situation came to be – who was talking through the broken transistor radio, why had there been a nuclear attack or what these people's backgrounds had been before the apocalypse.
Having said that, this show made an impact through the diversity of the cast, and the excellent use of stage space. With a slightly different angle to the storytelling, it has the potential to turn into a strong and polished production.