Penguins meddling with the recycling?

THE SUPERHERO by Sophie Swithinbank, performed by students and alumni of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Brighton Open Air Theatre (B.O.A.T.) Tuesday 5th July, 2016. 

On a glorious summer evening, theatregoers at Brighton Open Air Theatre were treated to the opening night of Sophie Swithinbank's first full-length play, The Superhero. Originally a project supported financially through Crowdfunder, the finished play, which ran at Starboard Festival, showed few if any signs of amateurism. Aimed at teen audiences - despite the odd swear word - her polished and tightly-plotted script zips along hilariously for all ages, bolstered by a capable cast, selected from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Most notable is Mark Starling, who steals the audience's hearts as Jack, the unrequited love interest of Kate.

Swithinbank's comedic style takes familiar scenarios and gently but zanily twists them to extract a constant stream of laughter from the audience. She admits to being inspired by The Mighty Boosh but her hand isn't quite so heavy, rightly confident that her material is consistently strong, as you might expect from such an influence. The Superhero is set in a near future where the world has suffered an environmental crisis, and London has iced-over, wryly caused, in part, by a previous generation's excessive smoking of e-cigarettes. Ostensibly a coming of age story (as all good superhero stories are), the play's main character Kate Bradshaw faces bullies, phonies and defrosted mammoths in her quest to become herself.

Part of Swithinbank's comedic strength is her ability to allude to other topics that undermine or contradict the audience's expectations of a character or situation. As a result, the toffish and inflated superhero, Milan Kane, played smarmily by Ben Lacey, comes across as a bit of a jobsworth, memorably rescuing only 'the people of London and the South East'. Similarly, there is an ongoing battle between the talking mammoths - by far the most delightful things in the play thanks to their magnificent costuming by Lotte Brockbank - over their vegetarian status. The more rambunctious of the pair, Frederick, played up to the nines by Joe James, has taken a liking to meat and accuses his partner of 'trunk-blocking' him in his frenzied hunts for penguins and other meaty morsels.

As with most media aimed at teen audiences, the ending was a little predictable. But with a run-time of around 70 minutes there's no time for boredom to set in, and you'll soon be happily reciting your favourite moments with your friends in the way that all good comedy compels you to.

Alex Atmore