Review – The World Mouse Plague at Battersea Arts Centre

During a wild, messy and hilarious 60-minute performance Jon Haynes and David Woods, dressed as mice throughout, perform what is essentially sketch comedy (with particular homage to Abbott & Costello’s Who’s On First) while drawing attention to meta-theatrical narrative and structure. There are running threads in their little scenes: an infestation of mice, an eviction, a theatre project called The World Mouse Plague which, they say, is an immersive verbatim allegory of stage four genocide. Except the piece of theatre we are watching is not this.

Some of the scenes are purporting to be verbatim enactments of rehearsals for this genocide project which get interrupted by an old lady who is slipping in and out of lucidity. Except, in these supposedly verbatim scenes, they keep drawing attention to the fact that they are dressed as mice.

Then there are scenes in which the two performers actually act as mice, nibbling on Ritz crackers and plopping out little brown droppings. There are scenes in which they leap through the bewildered audience, they dance to music, they interact with the audience, they pretend that a woman in the front row has deleted the whole show from the Dictaphone.

Just as I get to a point when I think I may be understanding the show, just when I start congratulating myself, they tell me what I’ve been thinking and move on to another meta-layer. It seems as if, amid the mess and chaos, this show has a carefully realised structure – a kind of feedback loop, as if rehearsals have been recorded and performed and those performances recorded and then performed, each time adding another layer.

By the end I’m wondering what The World Mouse Plague is. Is it this show? Or the idea of this show, the immersive verbatim piece, that never got made? Or are they only pretending that it’s the idea of the show? The most comprehensive way to explain The World Mouse Plague is this: we are not watching the play we are being told that we are watching.

Tim Bano

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