I’m reading the play text for Chris Goode’s Mirabel, sitting in bed with still-too-hot tea next me. My feet are under the duvet, a tangle of illustrated flowers, and the blind is half pulled up, letting in a small amount of morning light. There’s a sound like tiny rocks falling and I look up to see a black cat has jumped on to the windowsill and is staring, big-eyed, into the room.
It’s a storybook witch’s cat, a sleek sphinxy moving shadow and for a moment I don’t respect the difference between the world of Mirabel unreeling from the page and the world of Walthamstow flats and neighbourhood cats. I take the black cat to be another character, like Mirabel’s bear and the black dog with red eyes. The streamlined Mog is so obviously a part of Goode’s story I just add it in like an extra animation flown from book to garden. I wonder how long it takes me to register that one – the cat – is real and the other – Mirabel – is not. It’s funny, how stories sometimes get you like that. Good stories.
This, briefly, is the tale of Mirabel: An eight-year-old child wakes up ‘after the end of the end of the world’. She does what little girls in adventure storybooks do, which is to set off on a journey accompanied by an expanding rag-tag bunch of semi-broken characters. In this case, a teddy bear with a wolf’s soul, a scentless dog, a decapitated head, a pilot with a mashed-up leg and a beautiful, slowly-shrivelling bluebell. There are no ruby slippers or yellow pathways, but we can read the engraved signpost saying ‘Welcome to Storybookville’. We know Mirabel is walking through the ruined landscape of the scariest story of them all: what happens when the adults disappear.
Mirabel is a story because it is written like one. Goode has prettified the tale with extended metaphors, anthropomorphised objects and creatures, childish humour and references. A spinning room is instructed to get some rest, which it dutifully does. Beetles think sad thoughts about mathematics. Disney’s Frozen collectables and Claire’s Accessories poke up through the rubble, along with ‘lonely plastics’ and backyard trampolines that no longer have a backyard.
The playfulness of the language, the way it makes the audience giggle at cactus-bum jokes and take the deaths of pre-schoolers hand-in-hand with a anecdote about Paul McCartney dying live on Japanese TV, makes Goode’s writing reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut’s (and not just because the Galapagos turtles get name-checked). The opening roll call of deceased people and animals almost begs to be punctuated with the ‘so it goes’ refrain from Slaughterhouse-Five (or, ‘The Children’s Crusade’) as a heckled audience reply. Moreover, like Vonnegut’s Dresden novel, Mirabel is criss-crossed with reflections on adult- and childhood, reality and myth, and unfurling mental states. Its cleverness and sorrow is like the screaming-crunch of leaves underfoot after you laughed in delight at them being kicked high in the autumn air.
Mirabel is a nice story. It’s an always-partly-familiar story that, for people who know Goode’s work, seems almost too nice at times. So it should come as no surprise that the apocalyptic adventure tale is not the only story making up the whole of this new show. There’s the other one where everything explodes and crackles and shatters and… And the thing about stories is that no one wants to know the ending in advance. The thing about reviews, so I keep being told, is that it spoils everything for the reader if you let them know what happens before they see it. You’re the murderer of the story, the killer of the suspense. The no fun truth-teller. So I won’t share what happens at the end of Mirabel, only that the black cat jumped down from the ledge and disappeared through the grass.
Mirabel is on until 17 November 2018 at Ovalhouse. Click here for more details.