Quantum Immortality, written and directed by Mariam Hayat and produced by Annie Tomkins, opens with a chilling tableau.
Henry Everest, a professor of Physics, is strapped to a chair, muttering and singing to himself, raving incoherently.
We then switch to a touching romantic moment between Everest and his pregnant wife, stargazing, clearly some time in the past.
This is inevitably tainted by what we have just seen, creating an impressive portrait of futile idealism.
These themes, idealism and madness, are at the heart of the play. It is an unnerving study of obsession and insanity, forcing us to think about how far we should be willing to go in the name of science and ending with a bleak message about the inevitability of death and decay.
Frederico Mollet was successful in the principal role. The fervour of the unrecognised genius was apparent in his entire physical demeanour; at times his body seemed racked to the core with desperation and his voice, alternately hurling abuse, explaining complex mathematics and whispering in despair, coped well with the changes.
His constant striving to be the best, to achieve something, to move up from his seemingly permanent position at ‘the bottom of the top’ was truly affecting.
The Southern American setting was slightly mystifying and did not seem to add much to the overall performance.
Also, the American accents could have been more consistent, there was a tendency to let them drop.
Luke McCormack, who played Clyde, the young protégé, was the most successful in this respect.
He gave an excellent performance throughout, allowing glimmers of comedy (the scene about cat corpses springs to mind) to lighten the rather dark mood.
Lizzie Reavley gave a fine performance as Everest’s wife. Her final soliloquy was particularly well delivered.
She had some of the most thought-provoking lines in the play and left me pondering “the fear of being forgotten” for quite a while afterwards.
David Hodges, in the roles of Professor Grosvenor and the Sheriff, needed more work on his accent.
Unfortunately, his delivery sometimes obscured some of the lines, making the scene more difficult to follow.
However, he brought effective cynicism and cruelty to both roles which acted as good contrasts to Everest’s idealism.
Lighting and sound effects were very slick. The shadows on the back screen caught my eye a number of times, the ghost-like figures providing an interesting comment on the central ideas of death and immortality.
One notable moment was the perfect change in lighting during an argument between Everest and Clyde to reflect the crucial change from hostility to concern.
The simple set worked well, allowing characters to move seamlessly between scenes.
The use of voiceovers was terrific. They played at just the right volume, growing in intensity throughout.
Coupled with increasingly dramatic lighting, they led us steadily to the climax. A haunting ticking noise introduced at the height of the emotion reminded us of the inexorable march of time.
All things considered, this is a play well worth taking the time to see. Its themes are timeless and it definitely succeeded in drawing me into Everest’s frenzied quest for immortality.
Photograph: Mariam Hayat