Ever since I was a young child I’d been a huge fan superheroes, and supervillains too, so that’s been almost forty years of reading and watching them. I’ve enjoyed the majority of the Marvel movies and even some of the DC ones too, well, you know, Wonder Woman and Shazam anyhow, but just last night I was talking to an old friend about how I felt exhausted by the genre, that nothing new was being done with it, and that for a fair old while I was done with it.
And then “Villain, Interrupted” came along and proved me to be a massive liar. And also proved that there’s still plenty of scope to have fun with the genre, and explore unusual ideas and concepts within it, you just have to be smart, inventive and thoughtful, and that’s something that applies to the play and then some. Over the years in comics there’s been a lot of exploration as to why villains act the way they do, but little over whether they can change, find redemption, and it’s this that writer KT Roberts has delved in to and made such a captivating work.
The play begins with therapist Gina (Emma Richardson) talking to a journalist about how she worked in a prison which contained only those with superpowers, and that in a recent riot several prisoners escaped. At first it jumps back to the riot itself, where Gina seems in a lot of danger, but then she explains how she needs to go back six months to when she first started working there so that the journalist can really understand what happened. And it’s here that we meet her therapy group which includes Seth (Fred Stewart), a man capable of bringing his drawings to life, Charlie (Sofia Greenacre) and Xanthie (Francesca Forristal), two people who were merged in to one body and who can tell when someone’s lying and make them confess the truth, Westy (Greenacre again) who can knock people unconscious with a mere look and also secrete hallucinogenics from her fangs, and Kevin (Forristal again), who isn’t aware of his superpower, or that’s what he’s claiming anyhow.
Over the course of the play we discover why they’re in prison, and whether or not they deserve to be as well. The set up not only allows Roberts to make some superb jokes about what it must be like to have such powers, and live in a reality where people have them, but also examine a whole host of different ideas and concepts including the nature of good and evil, responsibility, redemption, rehabilitation and the myriad of issues each of the characters has. Which sounds pretty heavy stuff I’m aware but Roberts and co have handled it with extreme care, and along the way made certain moments very, very funny indeed.
The cast deserve a ridiculous amount of acclaim, apart from Emma Richardson as the therapist Gina all of them take on a variety of different roles, but that’s not to suggest that Richardson is less than brilliant, indeed in one scene she blew me away without even speaking. Fred Stewart makes for an engaging anti-hero who switches between menacing and sympathetic, and Sofia Greenacre and Francesca Forristal each inhabit the different roles they take on with impressive prowess and make all fascinating to watch.
The direction from Micha Mirto is also remarkable as she has to get the four strong cast to take on all these different characters and often jump between them in the same scene, and the play starts in the present, skips back a month, and then moves back another six as well. Not only that but there’s some extremely clever puppetry via the use of an overhead projector and acetate sheets, which adds not only to the humour of the work but makes certain moments towards the end of the play visually imposing.
Writer KT Roberts has created a truly insightful, extremely funny and yet also quite affecting play here, and it’s one which deserves to be seen by a much wider audience. At the end of the performance it received a standing ovation, and I’m pretty sure that would be the case if it was playing in the West End too, I’m not sure if something this intelligent would survive in the land of jukebox musicals but it definitely deserves a chance.