An international terrorist plot to corner the world milk market, depriving our children of the calcium that prevents their bones crumbling to dust, is the ambitious premise of Spilt Milk, written by Haydn Jenkins and Colin Rothwell.
Kate Marston plays Macy Johnson, British diplomat and spy tasked with travelling to the ‘fictional’ country of Liechtenstein to uncover the dark forces at work. Louisa Keight and Mark Bittlestone play everyone else encountered on the way, and beyond. A ridiculous range of characters –highlights include a Texan cattle baron, sinister Liechtensteinian politicians and an intercontinental Yorkshire delivery service man – are played with an energy that obviously comes from an enjoyment of the roles. Mark has a particular boisterousness with stereotypically American characters which at one point nearly has his co-actors cracking up and Louisa flits well between calmness to manic absurdity; both are consistently impressive in voicing the comedic accents of this bizarre ensemble. As Macy Johnson, Kate juggles the jobs of playing the straight-up foil to these characters and a self-parodying a slick, quip-slinging spy and does this convincingly.
There was a jarring false start in the audio-visuals, delaying the beginning of the play by about five minutes, which I don’t doubt was an opening night jitter. Indeed that initial cock-up probably unduly prejudiced the audience against the use of the projector and audio throughout the play, which was actually hilariously well integrated with the stage action (the use of Facebook and PowerPoint particularly).
This new play also runs into difficulties if it’s taken as satire: there are a few overtly political jokes, about Jeremy Corbyn for example, but they fall a bit flat compared to the more hearty absurdity of the rest of the material. Likewise the developing news reports raised a few laughs as the running jokes within them elaborated, but they felt overall like an ersatz copy of Chris Morris’ surreal ‘90s media satire The Day Today, right down to the hairstyle of the newsreader. The writing is at its best when it’s crafting puns and indulging in smart-but-silly parody of the spy genre, which despite being well-trodden ground does yield some genius moments here. Of course, by linking international economic crimes with the state of Liechtenstein, long alleged to be a tax-dodgers’ haven, the play makes a profound point about the corruptions of financialised modern capitalism… then again, it’s probably more about milk.
Overall, this was a well-acted new play, pushed up by some genius moments and some decent – not always slick – use of technology. Let down by a few flops, any viewer not lacking in the milk of human kindness will have a good time.