REVIEW: Spoiler Alert

A witty satirisation of identity politics

Meet Maddy (Anna Wright), a schoolteacher who lives with her boyfriend of three years, Jim (Alex Franklin), and has just discovered she possesses the gift of foresight. As she faces the unique dilemmas that come with being able to see her students’ futures and how her boyfriend will die, she must decide what her new power means for her relationships and her identity. What ensues is a hilarious and thoughtful exploration of the everyday ramifications of being prophetic in a world that in every other way resembles our own.

Spoiler Alert is a comedy, and it certainly exploits its premise for laughs to the fullest extent. It opens with the juxtaposition of Maddy ‘coming out’ as prophetic with Jim’s confession that he has forgotten his girlfriend’s name. From Prophetics Anonymous meetings to Maddy’s meltdown over the fact that her most successful student is going to be a PR and marketing guy, Charlotte Cromie has put her mastery of comedic writing on full display. It’s light, it’s witty, and I love that Jim completes an entire scene with white paste dripping off his face after Maddy plants a pie on it just to prove a point.

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Credit: David Swarbrick

Many of the supporting characters are caricatures of personalities we’d all instantly recognize from media and real life: the overly positive sunshine-and-rainbows group leader (Izzy Lewis), the perpetual voluntourist (‘I’m giving so much to this community’) (Issy Snape), the overly flirty girl who is after her spoken for co-worker (also played by Issy Snape), the villain who begins monologuing as soon as she is unmasked (Lottie Elton), the down-on-his-luck actor (Ben Martineau), and the not-so-bright boyfriend with whom the much more devoted protagonist is, for some reason, in love. The cast excel at the timing and delivery of the show’s jokes, but they truly bring these characters to life with exaggerated body language and facial expressions. One scene in which Maddy and Jim face the audience to watch TV drew laughs all around despite having very little dialogue.

Don’t let the light-hearted atmosphere and funky music fool you into thinking there is nothing of substance here though. While caricatures feature prominently, our protagonist Maddy is a multi-dimensional woman who displays confusion, self-awareness, anger, conviction, and intelligence as she struggles with the conflicting messages that are flung at her in bite-sized slogans throughout the play. Is being prophetic a defining part of Maddy’s identity, to be loudly celebrated under the mantra ‘prophetic and proud’? Or is it closer to a mental illness, something brought on by stress that needs to be kept quiet and managed? These may seem like questions for an individual, but what happens when the prophetic community begins policing its members? The snap shifts from ‘proud’ to ‘keep it to yourself’, from ‘I validate your feelings’ to ‘guilty and sentenced to death’ are effective at grounding the play’s satire in modern discussions. Yet Spoiler Alert never feels moralistic; it makes fun of everything indiscriminately, and only explicitly takes a position regarding whether the future is pre-determined.

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Credit: David Swarbrick

Spoiler Alert sets out to be funny – and in that it succeeds magnificently – but it is also subversive and astute. It perfectly balances the pure humour to be had when characters can predict the future with more serious questions surrounding self-determination and identity politics. Cromie deftly avoids the pitfalls of satire, delivering a clever, focused story. There is never any doubt that the point of the play is to have fun while it pokes fun.

4.5 stars.

Spoiler Alert is on at the ADC until Saturday, 24th February. Tickets are £6-£7.

University of Cambridge