I’m scared of supermarkets. Not all of them, especially not the small Tesco Express sized ones on city streets. But those supersized hypermarket ones make me feel slightly nauseous just thinking about them. My biggest supermarket existential crisis (and I’m not just saying this for the sake of this review) was in the cereal aisle of a medium-to-large branch of Sainsbury’s. There were just so.many.boxes.of.cereal. I dithered in an increasingly hysterical manner for ages, left with nothing and then started systematically contacting everyone I knew to explain how I “just wanted some fucking muesli!” But faced with, what, 80? 90? different varieties, something went snap in my brain.
I don’t like to think of other people in distress, but it cheered me no end to have, as part of Scribble at Assembly Roxy, this exact same supermarket-induced panic – cereal aisle and all – described to me by someone else. The un-named protagonist of the play (possibly, but not necessarily, telling all or parts of writer Andy Edward’s own story) has come up with a handy solution to the breakfast food angst: Bran Flakes. By always eating Bran Flakes, he avoids the rising tide of panic accompanying looking at cornfakescocopopsmuesliporridgesachetsspecialKandmore. It’s an austere choice, but I’m glad he’s got that one sorted.
The de facto subtitle for Scribble written in chalk on the floor of the performance space is ‘Bran Flakes, Anxiety & Gravity: What I Know About the Universe.’ Performed each time by Alan Mackenzie as the main character, plus an unprepared actor tasked with reading from a series of short scripts, Scribble is about far more than just Bran Flakes. Or is it? As the floor title suggests, Scribble aims to be about both the tiny, most mundane parts of existence and the far-reaching rules of universe those Bran Flake eaters living in. More exactly, it’s about trying to find a way to exist as part of the wider scheme of things when recurrent thoughts make that exceptionally difficult.
It isn’t just the choice of cereal that Mackenzie’s character has trouble with. He also has a series of extremely worrying thoughts that are starting to ruin his life. They’re thoughts that he is aware of as being ‘wrong’, thoughts that he doesn’t want to have, and thoughts that he has no conscious desire to act on; in fact he is actively trying not to have them. Scribble introduces the audience to the terrifying concept of a mind repeatedly doing unwanted things even whilst the person to whom it belongs is consciously trying to make it do otherwise.
As a piece of theatre, Scribble feels like it is still in development. The audience are told it is on Draft 49, and it appears to have been created by a close-knit team. Perhaps the input of someone from outside this group would help give it the final nudge into a more cogent work. Thus far, it’s received relatively negative reviews. Having lived with it in my head for over a week – a privilege most people writing about it don’t have – I’ve found it a curiously hard work to forget, perhaps because the ideas floating underneath it are compelling. The ambition behind the piece is to communicate the experience of living with a mind outside your control, and to reflect the sliding, slippery state of the human psyche through a piece of theatre that is similarly ever-evolving – through, among other things, changing performers, a tapestry of voices, multiple drafts of the same script and a title that suggests some of this distortion is deliberate. In essence, they’ve set themselves a pretty hard task, but given time this scribble could still turn into a more detailed drawing.
Scribble is on at Assembly Roxy until 27 August 2017. Click here for more details.