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Review: Cosmic at Royal Court Studio ***1/2

There have always been conspiracy theories and people happy to believe them, but the rise of the internet – and, in recent times, being locked away with just social media for company – has created a fertile ground for their propagation and spread.

From the ‘fake’ moon landings and ‘Paul is dead’ of the late 1960s to Bill Gates injecting controlling microchips into people through the Covid vaccine, no matter how implausible, there’s someone out there who will be convinced by them.

So promising new playwright Joe McNally has plenty of material to play with in Cosmic, currently being staged in the Royal Court Studio.

Vinnie Morgan (Andy McLeod) lives in his mum’s shed from where he runs TAFS (Truth and Freedom Seekers), a vigilante group of concerned citizens that consists of just two members – Vinnie and Oisin (Connor Henry), a happy-go-lucky Irish student with an even slimmer grip on reality.

But while it’s easy to laugh at this pair of well-meaning clowns as they whip each other up into increasingly bizarre pronouncements and extreme actions, McNally’s story has more depth and dimension to it.

His Vinnie isn’t just a paranoid pothead whose reasoning has been addled by the ingestion of too many illicit substances, but also a devastated son who is looking for answers and has disappeared down one too many rabbit holes in the process.

Above: Kalli Tant as Kirsty and Claire Hackett as Lesley in Cosmic. Top: Andy McLeod as Vinnie. Photos by AB Photography.

A cosmic cosplaying Citizen Smith of the tin foil hat generation (he even wears a military-style beret), for Vinnie the ‘revolution’ involves not smashing the class structure but destroying telecommunication infrastructure…in between ordering pizzas on his mobile phone.

But even he has a limit when it comes to the most outlandish conspiracy theories – and the lengths their believers will go to in response. Criminal damage yes, human collateral no.

Claire Hackett is a warm, sympathetic presence as Vinnie’s supportive if exasperated, quietly grieving mother Lesley (Claire Hackett) while Kally Tant’s eye-rolling teenage daughter Kirsty exhibits wisdom beyond her years.

And Mark Rice-Oxley evidently revels in his role as swivel-eyed conspiracy theorist Ernie, king of the rival Freedom Fighters who has big plans to really make a statement.

Above: Oisin (Connor Henry), Ernie (Mark Rice-Oxley) and Andy McLeod's Vinnie. Photo by AB Photography

McNally evidently has an ear for dialogue and an enjoyably sly line in current cultural references - one or two of which may be too subtle for those who don’t keep on top of what’s happening on the wild west web, although occasionally he teeters on the edge of bad taste.

But while (Byron reference incoming) some his characters might be on the mad side, they’re not inherently bad...just potentially dangerous to know.

Under director Deborah Yhip the narrative paces along nicely, even if the Studio’s handkerchief-sized stage – every inch filled with designer Christopher McCourt’s ambitious set – presents its own set of physical challenges.

Chapeau to the team behind the inspired virtual realisation of Stone Roses guru Ian Brown.

And also, of course, hats off to McNally, a graduate of both the YEP Playwright Programme and the Royal Court’s own Stage Write Playwright Development Programme, for what is a solidly-constructed and genuinely entertaining full-length stage debut.


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