Karagula is generally described in very vague terms, such as “sweeping fantasy epic” and other incredibly broad terms that almost obscure more than they clarify.
Very fond of in medias res, the play beings with disjointed conversations between an old man in what appears to be a time machine and a recording, which fades in and out as the voice learns to speak. They speak of a shared dream – a forest and a voice uttering a single word: Karagula.
From there onwards, the play shudderingly and confusingly jaunts from one scene to another as they freely shift throughout multiple time periods, demarcated by different civilisations and ruling empires (and the anarchy that comes inbetween). Each time period has its own aesthetic, visual, and spoken tropes. A fascinating blend of themes from human sacrifice, religious fanaticism, fantastical creatures, superhuman abilities, undying love, and, of course, milkshakes.
Having now seen the play, I understand why the descriptions of it are so vague; to explain it would be to ruin the revelations and minutiae of the plot. I was initially terrified by the prospect of a 3 ½ hour production, especially one with sections that seem so disparate and disconnected from one another that they initially seemed more like vignettes or sketches rather than one coherent play. As you watch, however, it becomes clear that Philip Ridley evidently intended to create a science fiction epic on a similar scale to Dune or Star Wars, and for whatever reason decided to compress it all into one production. The nature of the medium occasionally lends itself to the storytelling – there is a moment in particular when two feral children emerge from underneath the front row seats, which was especially effective.
However, there are many more examples of the constraints of the venue and budget detracted from what was being put across. There was one moment in particular when a character is flanked on either side by what creatures that appear to be tinsel-based lifeforms, or possibly emissaries from the VHS universe, that we are unreliably informed are “wolves”. Frankly the sound effects were unconvincing also.
All in all, the story is excellent. One gets a clear idea that Philip Ridley envisioned a whole universe, much in the same way that Tolkien, C.S. Lewis or James Herbert did, but the considerable volume of content appears rushed when squished into such a small space – especially when taking into account the volume of polysyllabic science fiction jargon that must be processed. It would make a spectacular series of films, books, or even find success on Netflix, but as a play it somewhat falls short. Would very much recommend.
Reviewer: Joshua Mcloughlin
Running until 9 July
Company: We are pigdog
Book at wearepigdog.com