“He had no way of knowing it would get so out of control”
Full disclosure – I saw a preview of Karagula, one which lasted until 11pm and so you may rightly assume that it left me disgruntled. But I’m my own worst enemy sometimes, I’m not the biggest fan of Philip Ridley when he’s erring on the fractured narrative side and I had been warned. But Radiant Vermin was so good, Mercury Fur shines brightly in the memory, and Ridley’s own poetry had left me very well inclined towards him when news of this new production broke.
Mounted by D.E.M. Productions and PIGDOG in a location initially kept secret but now revealed as Styx, a converted ambulance station in Tottenham Hale, Karagula is a wildly ambitious thing, claiming to be one of the largest productions ever mounted Off-West-End. And in some ways, you can see it, the attention to detail in some of the costumes, the sheer sweep of the universes that it covers, the audacity of the satire attempted on dissolute Western behaviour patterns.
At this stage though, the scale seems a step too far. Fractured narratives of multiple storylines are all well and good when tautly observed, but there’s far too much bagginess in the writing here with a couple of scenes dragging on fatally too long. And you can see where Shawn Soh’s design budget has been tested, in a way that sometimes (knowingly?) recalls classic Doctor Who in its shonkiness.
As for what it’s about? As always, there’s moment of pure beauty in Ridley’s prose – the way in which folktales persist but transmute, meanings shifting with time (the snowglobe…), humanity clinging onto what they can when the world seems set on destroying itself. Max Barton battles bravely with the sheer volume of Karagula to give us some powerful moments but at this moment, they feel too few and far between.