Going Bart to the future
If there was a nuclear catastrophe and society as we know it ceased to exist, what stories would survivors continue to tell? Shakespeare? The Bible? Or could it actually be episodes of The Simpsons as American playwright Anne Washburn suggests in her 2012 play Mr Burns, A Post-Electric Play?
Set in a post-apocalyptic America, Washburn’s weird and wonderful three-act musical drama begins with a group of survivors sitting around a camp fire retelling The Simpsons’ 1993 Cape Feare episode (a parody of the Cape Fear film, in which Sideshow Bob tries to kill Bart) to keep themselves entertained.
Seven years later, they have formed a travelling theatre troupe, which performs Simpsons episodes. By the play’s end, 75 years on, the legend of The Simpsons has grown to such an extent that they have become quasireligious figures, with Bart as the Jesus-like saviour of the world and Mr Burns as the satanic villain.
The play opens at Belvoir this week, after a successful Adelaide season, with a top-notch cast. Esther Hannaford (who is soon to play Carole King in the musical Beautiful) plays Bart, while Brent Hill (who co-starred with Hannaford in last year’s Little Shop Of Horrors) is Homer.
Mitchell Butel, whose numerous credits include the musical Avenue Q, Angels in America for Belvoir, and The Mikado for Opera Australia, plays Mr Burns.
Butel can’t help laughing when he describes the sparkly black cat suit and huge hump he wears in the final act, which takes the form of a pop-rap-operetta.
“I look like some disgusting Richard III swamp monster, but sequined and fabulous at the same time. It’s quite a look!” he says.
“Anne Washburn is very clear that the third act is inspired by The Simpsons but that the characters are not imitations. Instead, we take on this mythological quality. As Mr Burns, I become every villain that ever was — I’m Satan, I’m Hitler, Ivan Milat, Captain Hook. It’s pretty hideous but it’s great.
“It’s kind of a springboard for a consideration of what is good, what is evil and what is entertainment. Ultimately the play is a celebration and a homage to theatre and storytelling.”
MR BURNS, A POST- ELECTRIC PLAY, BELVOIR ST THEATRE, MAY 19- JUNE 25. BOOK: 9699 3444
Mitchell Butel stars as the satanic Mr Burns.
Brent Hill, Jude Henshall, Paula Arundell and Esther Hannaford.