I hadn’t been to the Matchstick Piehouse before, it’s quite well hidden under a set of railway arches in Deptford south east London, but thankfully Google Maps saw me right to the door from New Cross London Overground Station without too much trouble. Run by volunteers it’s a DIY theatre space, which is just the sort of thing the Hothouse really likes so we were delighted to be invited to not so much see as participate in Francesca Pazniokas’s The Wild Boar of Chernobyl.
‘It’s 45 minutes standing, by candlelight, stand anywhere you like, so long as you don’t touch the actors’ said the guy by the door, ‘would you like a candle?’. I declined on the basis that I was quite likely to set myself on fire and entered the theatre space. Within gigantic stalagmites rose from the floor while stalactites hung from the ceiling, we found our own territories and waited for the lights to go down.
In almost pitch darkness, illuminated by a sole flickering candle flame a young girl plays with her mutated lizard. We are in a post nuclear apocalyptic future. The survivors have moved underground away from the radiation and destruction above ground. A visitor arrives. He is the manager of this part of the cave system and has had disturbing news about the girl’s father, a self styled preacher who advocates a return to the surface. And this is where things start getting a bit weird, the preacher’s wife is pregnant and appears to communicate by telepathy and the daughter self clones while the messianic preacher is judged to have become a threat to the underground society by offering a future as yet untested based upon highly selective and unsubstantiated evidence relating to the titular wild pigs that flourished and took over the deserted remains of that irradiated Ukrainian city.
To me this is a play about faith and its abuse by a charismatic leader, which has many allegories with the arguments around Brexit, what with jurisdiction manager elected by a committee and the dismissing of ‘expert’ opinion of the nurse to take a leap into the unknown. The actor who plays the preacher has an extraordinary stage presence, not unlike that of Peter Capaldi, turning the thaetre space into his own private chapel with us the audience as his willing congregation. Meanwhile the wife and daughters exude a creeping malevolence, which is exacerbated by the flickering candlelight, her silence and their suitably childlike singing. The claustrophobia of the the underground set is vividly set off by the manager and nurse negotiating the set and the randomly distributed audience by cycle lamp and mobile phone torch.
A totally immersive theatre experience I give The Wild Boar of Chernobyl a 666/666. My only disappointment was that I never got to meet the theatre’s legendary cat!
The Wild Boar of Chernobyl was directed by Dom Spiane, with music by Sona Koloyan and installation design by Hugh Pottinger. Cast: M J Ashton, Aneiran George, Sam Gillett, Evie Hayer-Ziegier, Tomi Sunmonu, Laura Wheat and Kirsty Ferguson Lewis.
The Wild Boar of Chernobyl runs until 4 October at the Matchstick Piehouse, Edward Place, Deptford, London, SE8 5HD. Nearest stations are New Cross (London Overground and National Rail) and Deptford High Street (National Rail). Tickets from the Matchstick Piehouse website.