Friday 24 January 2020 1:21 pm

You Stupid Darkness! at Southwark Playhouse review: a quietly life-affirming apocalypse comedy

You Stupid Darkness! is a harrowing comedy about four volunteers, crammed into a dank call centre, filling the midnight to 4am slot on Wednesday mornings at Brightline; a dial-in emotional support service helping callers come to terms with the apocalypse.

Things have been getting worse for a while now. The world isn’t ending with a bang, but a whimper. This is a fantastically clever work, presenting an all too possible future, but it is carried off with such modesty and good humour that you could almost fail to recognise the way in which it has built an entire dying world outside that room. Economically illustrated with throw away lines, occluded verbal snapshots, and meteorological effects, but wholly realised nevertheless; it is a place of grinding entropy, where the cascading effects of natural disaster, infrastructural failure, collapse, and decay breed a sense of yet more deadly despair. Against this, the call centre staff make a weekly stand, armed only with empathy, black humour, and filthy cups of coffee.

The call centre, which is the play’s only set, is simply decorated, but the details are perfect, from the vacuous inspirational words of the week on the white board, to the squalid kitchenette, and the tattered motivational posters on the mildewed walls. The magnificent ensemble cast includes the optimistic Frances (Jenni Maitland), the conflicted Jon (Andy Rush), the effervescent Angie (Lydia Larson), and the 17-year-old work-experience kid, Joey (Andrew Finnigan). Frances is the first pregnant woman that Joey has seen in five years.

Each volunteer is richly developed as the story progresses, and Sam Steiner’s script is deftly choreographed, with conversations between on-stage characters dancing around one-sided telephone calls.

You Stupid Darkness! is gently funny, quietly life-affirming, and hopeful; at least insofar as it suggests that decency dies last.