What crisis, indeed? Unfortunately, I shall begin this review as I mean to continue it: this performance was utterly shambolic. There was a clear lack of organisation and refinement throughout its entirety, making itself one of the most lacklustre and disorderly performances I have seen.
One of the unique selling points of game theatre is its ability to utterly immerse participants in a complex world with clear and gratifying objectives, punishments and rewards. A successful piece of game theatre is engaging, entertaining, critical and consequential, demanding that participants use their intellect and apply themselves both mentally and physically, oftentimes exploring the physical world of the game, asking questions, retrieving information, negotiating, etc. I can safely say that I, and other participants that I watched incessantly, endured this entire performance without doing a single thing.
In this performance, it is commonplace to see so-called participants sitting on the edges of the action, awaiting their next instruction which will not come for the next ten minutes or so. Many spectators remain either confused by an overwhelming and utterly unfruitful erraticism (which I shall return to later) or simply bored out of their wits, making polite and awkward conversation with one another to kill time –– in other words, performing the mundane and trivial that they could do anywhere else where one would need to wait and converse with strangers.
I am not a shy individual nor a particularly uncommitted one, and so somehow managing to fade into the background in this performance was especially representative of its quality, for me. From the very beginning through to the very end, countless audience members were complaining either about having understood nothing or about having nothing to do, and, from talking to them, it was clear that these were individuals with a high understanding of history and politics, individuals who would have been engaged had the circumstances been correct.
All of this cannot be said for all participants, however, for there were definitely a minimum of three on the night I saw the performance who had a wonderful time, but it is extremely clear as to why… Throughout the performance, certain individuals are delegated to do certain tasks (take phone calls, talk with press, negotiate with other teams, etc.), and it just so happens that the vast majority of these tasks were carried out by these same few individuals whilst the rest of us and our actions were to become supplementary and inconsequential. In this way, the material of this performance is incredibly imbalanced, press seemingly having the most input in this performance, particularly towards the end where their efforts culminate in radio and television interviews.
For reasons I shall further further explain shortly, I cannot write conclusively on any other ‘Sectors’ in this performance beyond the Economics Sector, as I was not able to explore these, but I will comment on the amount of options available in the areas I was involved in or witnessed.
I shall start with the first round, during which I was sat at the press and negotiations table. Here, three individuals (those who would become the main delegates throughout the performance) were assigned the role of members of press, and two others were designated negotiators. This was a table of five, leaving three people without a concrete task — myself included. Whilst common sense would simply have us three join in as assistants or advisors to these chosen ones, it soon became evident that this was not possible. The negotiators were almost immediately called away to another team to…well, I imagine to negotiate, leaving us back at the table, task-less. This is when my fellow teammates at the time declared how confounded they were by what was going on and how nothing seemed tangible, clear or sensical –– most probably because they felt excluded from the action.
My original intention was to spend some time with each performer at each section in the room to provide a review that would be as holistic as possible. Yet, it turned out that I would be stuck with my second choice for the rest of the performance. This is why I cannot speak conclusively of other Sectors. My second choice happened to be to join the Economics Sector, and, quite frankly, I am incredibly glad that I did end up here, because I cannot imagine how insanely bored I might have been elsewhere.
My reason for being content here, however, was not because it was particularly riveting in itself or because I found the options/action to be engaging and challenging. Instead, it was because of two things: 1) my team were so comical and outlandish, and 2) I was put with Karen (played by Zoe Flint). It is not the function or importance of Karen that makes her such a wonderful feature — mainly because I find her character’s purpose and significance to be quite badly conceived, as do I most of the others — but Flint’s abilities as an actress. For moments when momentum started to dip, or when we had absolutely nothing to do, Flint came equipped with improvisations, regaling us with various aspects of her life: her dog, a mixed breed she had rescued from the shelter, or her boyfriend, Enrique, who was awaiting her return from work to cook her a paella. Her hidden stash of biscuits that she was willing to share with us, her favourite pencil sharpener, her errands awaiting her at home, all of these features that Flint had clearly added to Karen herself made for an utterly delightful characterisation. Armed with a monotone voice, a nonchalant demeanour and an “impartial” political stance, Karen was the most put-together and successful where character concepts are concerned.
There were various reasons as to why I found the Economics Sector to be otherwise underwhelming or fallible. One, unfortunately, was to do with Flint. Despite the sheer lovableness of her character, I must admit that Flint was particularly bad at leading the team in an orderly and commanding fashion, and this became more and more evident as the play went on. This accentuated how confusing the Sector was. We were utterly bombarded with options to choose from, and this number only increased. There should have been a gradual development in the complexity and significance of these, not only for dramatic purposes but also for ease of comprehension on the audience’s part.
Perhaps my biggest peeve, though, was that it was clear that our actions had very little effect on the world of the play, as the vast majority of our decisions as a group were, frankly, rather stupid, and yet nothing bad seemed to come of them. I believe it was, again, this inconsequentiality but also a lack of order and motivation that led my group, rather in their own right, to take the game very lightly and to make deliberately irrational and vapid decisions. There was a clear lack of drive, which is understandable, given the fact that it seems that there is nothing in it for us — we do not understand what we are working towards, nor do we feel a sense of reward or achievement, or punishment and loss, attributable to our actions.
A related issue pertains to the lack of identity of the spectators. It is clear that the importance of this was either overseen or an afterthought, the only ascribed identities being those written on the cards given out at the beginning of the performance. These detail which ‘Department’ we are from, details that are merely brushed over by Tom Black who has does nothing but read a pre-prepared, albeit humorous, punchline for each of them. The Departments are never spoken of again after this, rendering the whole thing superfluous and hence disappointing.
Content and concept aside, I shall now focus on the acting. This is actually not too bad. The actors seem to really understand their roles and duties as well as the supposed outcomes of our actions and how they are to react to them. They are all, for the most part, able to improvise rather well, despite this improvisation being oftentimes tucked away in the corners of the room, falling on deaf ears or having little reception from the audience members. There were a few times, however, particularly towards the end when actors were changing the set for the next sequence and must have thought that spectators were sufficiently distracted, where actors visibly came out of character, primarily to communicate with one another. This is not so good.
There is also a sheer lack of consistency where acting style is concerned. As made clear earlier, Karen was a personal favourite but also a character distinctly favoured by the rest of the audience who were very vocal about finding her amusing or endearing. Yet, her character type is emphatically different to the rest of the cast’s. Karen is highly caricaturistic, comedic, eccentric and, above all, unbearably slow (in a most positive and endearing way). Hence, she seems wildly out of place in a performance about a national crisis where all other characters are so blatantly flustered, serious, active and quick-paced. The only other actress who echoes this character type is Chloe Mashiter when she is portraying the Economics Advisor –– an ill-conceived character, given that we are supposed to be the specialists.
As for set, I have mixed feelings. I enjoy the fact that the entire space was decked with props, posters, phones, etc., making for a sense of intricacy and realism, but there is a lack of consistency in design, with furniture in particular being evocative of very different time periods. The inclusion of working televisions, radios and telephones, and, later, a working TV studio was particularly impressive, yet the volume and quality of these were insanely low. I should also note that it is preferable to have pictures on the TV screen which correspond with the action of the play.
There is an incredible amount that this play needs to work out. I mentioned earlier the erraticism of this performance. Ironically, the entire performance was very calamitous, and not in the dramatic game theatre way. It quickly became difficult to focus on what the real issues and material of this performance actually were. Whilst being briefed on main events, it was not uncommon to have other actors on the phone just to the side or having interactions with one another, or even altercations. Then, there was the lack of comedic timing –– a good example of this being the repetitive use of the swear jar, which was actually rather funny the first time, but when things are, supposedly, becoming severe and critical, it is not really the time to add a joke in. There were many suchlike jarring moments, and this It was difficult to progress in the tasks at hand because someone would be called away to deal with something else, or someone from another team would interrupt us with an ‘urgent’ [but, really, utterly inane] matter.
All in all, a rather terrible performance, I must admit. Its strongest feature is its secretive side-door entrance, and I am afraid that is where the engaging drama ends.
“A shambolic piece of theatre, disorganised, ineffective and awfully conceived.”