THE DEATH OF GRASS narrated by David Mitchell
By John Christopher >>> Full cast drama >>> First broadcast 2009 5×15 minute segments >>> Total running time: 70 mins approx.
A grass virus from China spreads all over the world, sparking a food shortage crises that’s so dire governments resort to atom bombs to prevent their nations from slipping into barbarism. Two families from London set out to journey to the North West of England where one of their relatives has already prepared his sprawling valley farm for the worst.
Despite the slightly sci-fi premise of a root virus that turns grass black, this tale is a fairly dour post-apocalyptic struggle to survive in a new, scary world. The predictability is tempered by just one character, Perry a former gunshop owner who begins to enjoy the new land of lawlessness and self-administered justice a little too much, proving too handy with his shotgun to ever be trustworthy. This stark, unpleasant character punctuates the plodding narrative with his increasingly violent actions.
This production is a mixture of narration, provided by actor and comedian David Mitchell, and full cast drama. Anyone expecting Mitchell to emphasise any comic potential will be disappointed because there are no light or even vaguely humorous moments to milk. To my ears it is odd to hear a voice I usually associate with comedy describing bullets slashing a looter’s body to bits as an outraged mother pumps an entire magazine into him, and it may be odd for your ears too. But Mitchell carries this play along, where the other characters do not. The main protagonists, apart from Perry, are indistinct ciphers. Some attempt is made late in the play to retcon some additional motivation but it’s too little too late.
Adapted from the novel by John Cristopher (The Tripods, The Lotus Caves) , Death of Grass feels fairly perfunctory for a play that’s over an hour long. This, I think, is partly down to the reliance on plot over characterisation and the interchangeable mediocrity of the leading players, rather than something inherently lacking in Christopher’s original. Having not read the book, it’s difficult to say, though I remain fairly convinced the actors were a little too fond of the dark tone and violent deeds to inject much in the way of personality. By the middle of the play, I realised I don’t care about these people and wished they’d stayed to perish in London. Whether or not Perry would meet a sticky end was the only thing holding my interest, and the odd juxtaposition of Mitchell’s better known comedy voice describing horrific deeds and situations.
The Death of Grass is a solid play that goes into the ‘might is right’ aspects of other post-apocalyptic drama of the time such as Day of the Triffids and Survivors. It’s in the same mold and a little the worse for it however it is an entertaining and diverting way to spend an hour nonetheless.
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Copyright Martin Gregory. 2021