X, rated

The culture: ‘X’ by Alistair McDowall, Royal Court

The cheap seats: a last minute freebee from a friend

At the post-show that followed the performance of ‘X’ I saw, Alistair McDowall (geeky, anxious, hilarious) said that he aimed for the back of the brain, writing for the subconscious, with his new play ‘X’.

And that’s exactly where it hit me. Or rather, where it crept up on me from. McDowall scatters linguistic tics and rhythms and repetition into his script like seeds which sprout up when you least expect them, take root and then return like Triffids in the second half.

The sci-fi genre put me off booking, originally, but I’m so glad I got to see this exciting piece of theatre. It might be set on a lonely research station on Pluto but ‘X’ is as much about time as it is about space. The team lose contact with Earth before the shuttle that was to take them back can reach. When the rescue ship still hasn’t arrived days/weeks/months later, they begin to feel nervous. As they lose hope and start to lose their minds, Cole (Rudi Dharmalingam) realises there’s something wrong with the clock.

Linear time and linear narratives are shattered and the scenes between black-outs get weirder and weirder. The team start to see things outside, in space, and Gilda (Jessica Raine) is hallucinating – or is she?

There’s a line in ‘Hamlet’ – “the time is out of joint” – that sprang to mind as I watched the unravelling of life and logic in ‘X’. With its clever, crooked set, snappy direction, and excellent cast ‘X’ is provocative and challenging – it had me gripped (and a bit terrified), even when the dialogue broke down into xs