Three women of apparent conviction introduce themselves on a stage bare but for a stool, lamp and a coat stand. Each has a clear role, accent, lighting state and agenda, but their surety fades with their smiles, as the days lengthen, their stories snowball and their tales cease to add up. Mega is a comedic trip into the murky world of identities; does who we think we are stand up to scrutiny? Who are we underneath the stories we tell?
The details of where and when remain murky, and so character is brought into sharper focus. Alex Milne’s debut work (as writer and director) is reminiscent in subject-matter of Jean-Paul Sartre existentialist, absurdist No Exit (“Hell is other people”) but with more sharply drawn, and only female characters; it’s like an absurdist Breakfast Club. Instead of the Princess, the Weirdo, the Jock and the Geek we have the Royal, the Witch and the Popstar, and they all have to rub along, to comedic effect.
It takes strong writing to make you want to spend time with unlikable characters, and mercifully, Alex Milne’s quirky comedic writing has strength in spades. To say they are unlikable may seem a bit harsh, it is more that they are self-obsessed and self-absorbed. They are reflections of the curious identities they have made for themselves, turned inwards and intensified. Are we becoming more intensified, warped or extreme versions of ourselves from the pressures put on us to find a clear identity? Representations of clear-cut identities are available to us in a never-ending stream on the internet, this could be why phones are banned in Milne’s cloudy universe, but which do we fit? Are we in danger of being distilled to a role? To just a word? There is a note of serious criticism that hums under Milne’s snappy, wit-fuelled script.
There is no doubt that these are some skilled comedy actors steering Milne’s comedy, they don’t miss a beat. Their conviction in their roles is as strong as their characters’. The contrast between the undeniably creepy wide-eyed Witch (Casey Bird), startling and always on the verge of tears Royal and deluded, shape and shade-throwing Popstar (Kirsty King) is acutely clear. However, the relationships they form on stage are patchy at best. The tendency the actors have to play straight-on to the audience a little too much may be connected to this and they seem to form a stronger bond with the audience than with each other. There are some sparks flying between the characters that are just longing to catch alight. In places the ambiguity of the writing feels more unresolved.
The identity of Milne’s characters may be unravelling at the edges but Mega in its quirky, curious form, for a debut, feels promisingly self-assured.