This review will consider CoLab Factory’s Revolution, a piece of immersive theatre directed and designed by Joe Ball with Kai Oliver. I shall start by stating that Revolution meets its objectives well: to entertain an audience in an immersive style of performance in tackling the premise of politics in a flavourful, unusual way. The parallel made between jocular games and important decisions that can drastically change the future of a country worked very well for this performance, comically highlighting and, somewhat, subverting the importance of modern politics.
In entering the space, spectators are asked to choose a definition for themselves from three options. This was a clever way to immediately introduce the decision-making elements of the play but also to create a sense of divide and unity, as spectators are then divided into groups corresponding with the personal definition they have chosen. Whilst I found this to enable the groups to build a comical bond over the definition they chose, there was one element I was confused by: the psychedelic wristbands. These seemed to possess no importance or necessity throughout the rest of the performance and seemed superfluous. Otherwise, a good start; a good start that was further enhanced by performances from Lauren Gibson, Peter Dewhurst and Joe Ball himself. Whilst there were certain moments wherein the energy fell, the vast majority of action and tension was upheld successfully. Each performer was energetic, dramatic and serious.
The only issue I had in regards to the performers was in relation to their purpose. As with narrative, on which I will elaborate shortly, no real introduction was made for these performers. It was not really made clear who they were, or why they wanted to help (or ridicule / rumour about) the audience members. Serving as accelerators for the game, these performers would sometimes demand, commandeer and deride; and other times, negotiate, aid and inform. I felt that it would have been more effective to have more specific roles for these characters. Perhaps one could have been more vindictive and demanding; another, helpful and kind; and the last, more elusive or mysterious. In other words, there needed to be more definition in and between these characters, and this would have enhanced the cryptic and unpredictable textures of the piece.
This relates to narrative. An explanation my group received from Joe Ball contextualised our role in the Revolution somewhat successfully, but the reasons as to why a revolution was happening in the first place were left quite unclear. This was mainly due to time management but also down to the efficacy of the narrative itself. Elements that could have served as powerful, contextualising motifs throughout the performance, such as spy drones, communication centres and ominous opposing social parties, had very short duration. The latter of the three, for example, had disappeared by the fourth round. These mysterious elements created tension and suspense and were effective; however, they were not used substantially enough, in my opinion. The idea of having an opposing force that audience members could not control or predict would have been an efficacious idea to integrate into a larger amount of the performance’s duration. Similarly, the communication centres, arguably the most important constituents of the board, seemed to lack importance throughout the narrative. These centres were needed to win the game in the end, and so more value needed to be attributed to them.
As for the spy drones, these were mentioned but nothing more was made of them. And there were certainly other specifications made that seemed to either dissipate very quickly or possess no relevance to the rest of the performance. For example, a moment where a rumour was told of one party who had allegedly been bottling their farts. Whilst comical, I couldn’t help but feel moments like these very unnecessary, crudely taking away from the piece’s otherwise successfully dramatic ambience.
To return to the notion of time management, rounds were very short and a lot of objectives had to be met during an allotted five minutes. This was true of the entire game, and whilst this added pressure and excitement, I felt that this level of tension lacked momentum; that is to say that the level of tension was kept the same throughout the performance, as the first round held just as much pressure as the last. This lowered the efficacy of the denouement of the piece for me.
I do commend, however, Revolution‘s success in creating a sense of competition. As I stated at the beginning, the groupings of spectators was successful, immediately creating a sense of solidarity and opposition. And this was further enhanced by the game’s permission of collaboration with other parties, spying, delegation, and debate. However, I couldn’t help but feel it would have been more effective to limit the amount of interaction the social parties had with one another. Again, it seemed unclear as to why these parties, so varied with different aims and political stances, would be constantly meeting in a secret location to deliberate political aspirations whilst opposing each other so greatly.
The missions and objectives given in each round were varied and carried poignance and pertinence. The idea of creating a manifesto, anthem and slogan, etc. was comical and immersive, encapsulating the materialistic and capitalistic fundaments of modern politics. Whilst these missions were so advanced and the pressure so high, however, I must draw attention to the use of mobile phones. Spectators were told to use their phones to take pictures of the main board and to email pictures and videos to the operator. I felt this was a very unimaginative way of communicating information and could have easily posed a problem for the performance if audience members did not have their mobile phones to hand. Or, as in a few spectators’ cases, mobiles were switched off and, with the time limits, were not able to be switched on in time for the end of the round. With everything else being so technological and thought-out, I just found this to be somewhat uncreative.
On the whole, this performance was a very enjoyable one, effectively indulging the otherwise numbing field of politics and successfully creating a sense of competition, unity and excitement. It is just the case that attention was perhaps directed more towards the less-important constituents of the performance, and less towards a coherent interwoven narrative which would have intensified the action.
“An entertaining piece of theatre but needing development in areas.”