The stage is white, clean and leaning downwards towards us. As the ‘curtain’ which is more of what looks like the outside of a ship is lifted, the staging continues this colour scheme but is constructed with a huge crack in the middle. Are we in a submarine? The large window where nothing can be seen could be a more futuristic decoration to the current submarine style, a large ladder to the side of the stage into the ceiling makes you feel as if you are under something. And the stage is silent. The two characters mill around, looking quite anxious, Jessica Raine’s (known for her debut in Call the Midwife on the BBC) looking the most intense, munching nervously on dry cereal. So many questions arise as the characters begin to talk, and you find yourself becoming as anxious as them as you are unsure what they are talking about, without any previous knowledge of events.
As we begin to understand the premise, X (written by Alistair McDowall and directed by Vicky Featherstone) is the story of an abandoned space team with no communication to a future concept of Earth. The world has begun to die, food is made in labs as animals and plant life are long extinct. Technology has long taken over from tangible things and the use of an older character reminiscing this in comparison to a younger generation pointing out the more technologically advanced versions hits home to how we are slowly becoming like this existence. X looks intently at the sense of time – how closely we rely on morning, noon and night, how our bodies unknowingly rely on this and how this can affect us. The combination of all of these elements shows the slow deterioration of the characters sanity, with clever back and forth scene changes from the past to the current. We’re never really sure which is which, along with being consistently plunged into darkness for a scene change, we feel anxious and lack a sense of time ourselves. The production very intelligently brings us into the action this way and makes you as confused as the characters.
Soon there is a very Sci-Fi horror take on the production. The story telling of seeing a girl with an X cut across her face, movement and sounds in areas of the ship and outside that are impossible and the interaction with characters that apparently do not exist. It feels like a Doctor Who episode, with a little less comedy and more adult themes. The same use of black outs, the violence and gory scenes throw at you push you into the situation and characters feelings; the actors using their abilities to consistently be in this state, it is a real testament to them that the constant confusion and high intensity anxiousness doesn’t leave them just as insane after the production has finished. As I was sat on the edge of a row, the darkness and non-rhythmic music made me feel vulnerable, half expecting for lights to flick on quickly and find some scary alien like character staring at me from the aisle.
Ending the production, the scenes leading up to this are emotional, fast paced, almost uncomfortable. X is so brilliant with doing this, that the calm ending where Raine’s character once left alone, has a daughter who continues the abandoned life in this space hub, seems unfinished. While in a way it is resolved and gives us the chance to calm down, it makes you wonder what putting us in such fearful situations was for. However, this is answered with the sense of loneliness, the loss of the sense of time, the emotional and intensity of the production; nothing is resolved. We still are left not knowingly what happens to this space hub.
X is beautiful, yet scary, evoking a rollercoaster of emotions and to be able to combine such opposite elements is a testament to the production, the actors and the writing. Going home, it certainly makes you think: What will we become?