Reviewer's rating

Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s graduate production Loam by Bea Roberts is described as a “utopian eco-comedy”, initially written pre-pandemic and then revised to enhance the parallels between the “plantdemic” that features in the play, and the COVID-19 rollercoaster that has happened since. Full of dancing and mushrooms that play music, it is a confusing but enjoyable production that makes up for its plot and occasional shaky direction with high-energy performances and dazzling costumes. 

Loam features a city beset by a pantdemic, with nature taking over in the most intimate of ways. The skin turns to moss, feet into tree trunks, and flowers sprout from literally the last place you’d want them to. The plantdemic sweeps the city, and with NHS helplines jammed by anxious callers and supermarket shelves raided of their supplies, it all feels like a recent memory. Where the paths diverge, however, is in the outcome of their ‘disease’. People start to see the beauty in their newfound body parts and connect to a world that feels much more natural than the manmade one they’ve been living in. It’s a play about falling in love with the stuff we need to protect, rather than desperately hoping it’ll all somehow keep going even as it withers around us. 

Honestly speaking, I found the plot hard to follow and wasn’t sure what caused the plantdemic, or what people were protesting, or why aerosol cans were being sprayed. It’s a bit of a strange play that doesn’t really address what feels like key questions, for example ‘surely having a plant growing out of there isn’t actually sustainable…long-term…?’ Regardless, there are many joyous parts of the performance which is brought to life by the dedication and huge energy of the cast. There are plenty of funny moments – a tired doctor teasing her sister over a glass of wine, a woodlouse talking his way out of an imminent squashing.  In general, the characters don’t tend to lend themselves to much depth, so it did occasionally feel like a whistle-stop tour through a series of big, brash people. Still, the glimpses of human connection are memorable.

There’s plenty of dancing, which sometimes can feel a little bit random and go on for longer than you’d expect, but it’s also great to just sit back and stop worrying about what it all means. The costumes throughout are playful and imaginative, from all-pink suits to the incredible golden woodlouse. There are enough surprises to keep this performance of Loam interesting, and therefore worth a watch as it hits its last weekend at The Bristol Old Vic.