an almost vicious refusal to permit its audience to become bored.

— REVIEW of ‘SOMA’ | Marginalia

Soma | Review

‘There is always soma’, wrote Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, ‘delicious soma, half a gram for a half-holiday, a gram for a week-end, two grams for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon…’

Huxley’s superdrug is given a radical reinterpretation in Tobias Manderson-Galvin’s one man show of the same name. Ostensibly playing himself – he comes across as a sort of recovering-from-something, or having-just-escaped-from-somewhere stand-up comic at the end of a very long run of shows – Manderson-Galvin effectively drags soma from the eighty-year-old pages of Huxley’s dystopia into the 21st century: hypertension, TV evangelists, digital democracy. Like both Unsex Me and 22 Short PlaysSoma dabbles in audience interaction, in perversity and subversiveness, in violently pushing against theatrical boundaries. It is the most self-indulgent of the three plays, but in Manderson-Galvin’s almost stream of consciousness-style script there is more than a hint of commentary on the various cults of personality which dominate today’s airwaves. He likes to say his own name – a mouthful for anybody – and he likes to change his clothes, at one point stripping entirely, at others switching between shirts and suits for no discernible reason. Elsewhere, we are introduced to a heavily-bandaged teddy bear and his keyboard, and Manderson-Galvin attempts to crowd surf with a boogie board. Has he taken soma, or have we?

SOMA is, if you have not by now guessed, a show difficult to get a handle on. Many, I suspect, will dismiss it as narcissistic art student wank. It is, certainly, the least accessible of the three plays reviewed here. Happily, what it does share with MKA’s other work is an almost vicious refusal to permit its audience to become bored. Again, here, I think it’s possible to detect a certain amount of satire at play, a thread of criticism of the desire of modern audiences to be entertained at any cost. This, after all, was Huxley’s point: that an Orwellian controlling authority is not needed to enslave a populace. Give them escape – TV, sex, drugs – and they will enslave themselves.

“an almost vicious refusal to permit its audience to become bored”