REVIEW: The Backwards People

Are we so afraid of taking one step forward that we would rather spin into retrograde?

Just in case the last year hasn’t felt apocalyptic enough, the ADC Theatre are currently airing a post-apocalyptic radio show.

Jonathan Powell’s original play, “The Backwards People” hooks the audience into an infinite surrealistic loop. Powell encourages us to ask ourselves difficult and stimulating questions: are we so afraid of taking one step forward that we would rather spin into retrograde like a lost planet? Why are we so scared that the memory of our mistakes will haunt us in never-ending dreams? The wandering Poet searches for answers to these questions when he joins a post-apocalyptic survivors’ bunker society consisting of a Captain, a Chef and a Teacher.

Image credits: CamDram

In this unexpected crew, the Poet quickly discovers that days repeat over and over again onboard a ship that never stops sailing. All sense of time is lost and we enter a downwards spiral, or “downwards and backwards” as the characters of the play describe it. This group of people is working against tomorrow in order to avoid the mistakes of history. The Poet finds herself needing to wake the others up from such a nightmare.

Image credits: author’s own screenshot

Thoughtfully directed by Powell and Dixie McDevitt, the atmosphere of the play really evokes the suspicious tone of “The Haunting of Bly Manor”, in its eerie quality and questioning of reality. This is helped by Maria Telnikoff’s brilliantly sinister voice of the never-ageing Child, which creeps up on us.

The other voice actors give flawless performances, too. Will Leckie captures the rigorous Captain’s breakdown perfectly, and Sieve Bonaiuti’s portrayal of the heroine determined to seek the truth urges the audience to reflect on the action, whilst Isaac Allen perfectly brings out hints of mischief in the Chef. Ffion Godwin, as the Teacher, presents the voice of reason, maintaining harmony between the characters onboard the ship.

Christian Treadwell’s sound design brings the radio play to life: his well-timed sound effects hook you into this carousel-like play. The quality of Treadwell’s sound design, together with Daniel Quigley and Anna-Maria Woodrow’s exciting compositions, really lifts the play and holds the audience’s attention, which feels necessary given that the plot itself could perhaps have been a little more engaging.

The poetic quality of the writing was pleasing to listen to, but the storyline was unbalanced – at times it was quite difficult to follow, and at other points there was too much exposition. This meant that some of the revelations felt as if they were exposing things which I either already knew, or hadn’t understood.

“The Backwards People” encourages us to think – but not so much as to cause a headache. However, the play helps to reflect on fears about facing our future and the consequences of the past which feels very relevant in the current climate.

Unfortunately, we can’t be entertained for eternity. Due to its nature, the play is inevitably repetitive, and in parts, the time really does seem to drag. Perhaps if the dialogue was a bit snappier, particularly in the more philosophical discussion in the play, then the pace would be better.

“The Backwards People” is definitely not a War of the Worlds style apocalypse film that makes you bite your nails in your excitement, and I wouldn’t say it’s a comedy, either. It’s that kind of play you listen to, then lightly discuss with a glass of red wine on a windy night. 3.5/5

You can listen to The Backwards People here!