It’s sad and not a little scary that a piece called Songs for the End of the World feels so relevant and timely, but you couldn’t wish for better company for the apocalypse than Dom Coyote & the Bloodmoneys, singing us out in style.
Set in a future where corrupt corporations are in charge, any dissent is demonised, those who can afford it flee to gated communities and the masses are kept in check with a heady, poisonous mix of jingoism and evangelical religion – so next week, basically – this is a compact little gem of a show, a lively mix of songs and satirical comedy that is in turns poignant, angry and savagely funny.
Jim Walters (Dom Coyote) is sent on a mission to Mars, with the aim of being (alongside his botanist wife), a space era ‘Adam and Eve’, and colonising a new world as the old one declines. But 50 days into his mission, and there’s been no word from Earth, his wife hasn’t survived the journey and all that is left is to broadcast his songs into the silence, hoping someone can hear them. Meanwhile on Earth, there are discontented stirrings in the idyllic community of Ashley Coombe, but a far bigger disaster is looming…
Created by Coyote and designer Michael Vale (with Tom Penn joining them on writing duties), and billed as ‘part gig, part play, part apocalypse’, Songs is a magpie’s mish-mash of musical, literary and cinematic influences (Bowie and Philip K Dick being the most obvious and openly acknowledged). It’s undeniably a slight show, with not much in the way of character development or even story – relying on a handful of smartly executed scenes and some broad plot strokes rather than a compellingly constructed narrative arc – but none of that detracts from its charm.
The likeable cast are universally strong – Ted Barnes, John Biddle, Milly Oldfield and Amanda Dal providing support alongside Coyote – and the songs are often quite lovely, flitting between musical styles and moods, deftly switching from the defiant energy of the (literally) underground rebel music scene in the tunnels beneath the manicured lawns of Ashley Coombe, and the fear, loneliness and creeping despair of the astronaut stranded in the skies above them.
And while the apocalypse is usually Americanised, this is a pleasingly British show, with pointed digs at Daily Mail-style toxic nostalgia for a world before the feminists and the gays and the brown people spoiled everything: the country is renamed New Albion, the rocket ship the Saxon. The advertising reel for Ashley Coombe is narrated in the crisp, RP tones of a 1940s BBC radio announcer, presented like a showreel for Butlin’s – though, tellingly, the images it broadcasts look run down and worn; this paradise is no new Eden, its real allure is those it excludes. The rabid, racist preacher dresses like Dolores Umbridge and lectures from a handmade bible whose tenets could be ripped from the pages of the tabloids, hiding her hatred beneath a veneer of Sunday school respectability. It’s a barbed reminder, as we daily cast fearful eyes across the Atlantic, that we’re quite capable of fucking things up on our own.
To find out more about Songs for the End of the World, click here.