I’m a terrible one for putting things off. This is why I could never be a proper reviewer – by the time I get around to seeing something, it’s just about to close and the review would be of no use to anyone. Anyway, a consequence of this was that I left going to see the Directrix’ latest opus until the penultimate night. So enjoy this useless recap.
The opus in question was part of a night called Theatre Souk. This, I was told, was interactive theatre. I generally loathe interactive theatre, being as how it has a tendency to consist of a lot of drama students who aren’t half as interesting as they think they are having a jolly good laugh while providing entertainment to each other. But, well, the Directrix has yet to direct a play that I have not enjoyed.
The concept of the evening may require a little explanation. The venue was an abandoned office block on Picton Place in Mayfair, once the headquarters of Uzbekistan Airways (so sucks if you want to go to Uzbekistan). Stripped out and derelict, the rooms and corridors of the building were turned into performing spaces, with several shows going on at once and various types of cabaret going on on the ground floor.
I rather regret leaving it until the second-to-last night, actually. My original thoughts were along the lines of “Wow, this is weird. I’ll just see the Directrix’ show and make a hasty exit.” By the end of the night, I found I wished I could have seen more of what was going on. As it happened, I saw two of the shows and quite a lot of the cabaret.
The shows were tailored to the venue (for instance, the one on the top floor was actually called ‘Uzbekistan Airways’). The two I saw were ‘Matador’ and ‘Priceless’. ‘Matador’ was a one-man show in a small room, the audience huddled around a circle while Neil Connolly performed the piece. Essentially an attack on our attitude towards the credit crunch, Connolly played a city trader who starts out as the kind of smug bastard we like to think of as being the root of all our current economic troubles before breaking down and turning the tables on us – pointing out that we must all bear some responsibility for the crunch. Very funny, very thought-provoking and, in the intimacy of the venue, more than a little uncomfortable.
The cabaret was a mixed bunch – the Directrix informs me that I missed a naked Pavarotti impersonator, which did not upset me too much. What I did see was a little stand-up, a very moving monologue, some spoof fortune-telling and some surprisingly enjoyable performance poetry. The only criticism I would make is that some of the acts perhaps lacked a little polish. Still, at least they remained clothed throughout.
Now, the Directrix’ piece was a show called ‘Priceless’ in the basement. Even if we put aside my obvious bias, this really was right up my alley. You see, I’m a big fan of the bizarro. The strange, disturbing and cultish is definitely my bag. The concept behind Priceless was a little bit Big Brother, a little bit The Prisoner, a little bit Fight Club. But what it reminded me most of was those weird and disturbing things you come across on the Internet, following obscure links, when it’s late at night and you’re alone in the house. Look up Fantastic Hey Hey Hey, Suicide Mouse, the Swedish Rhapsody numbers station or – if you can find it – The Grifter.
‘Priceless’ was something straight out of the urban legendarium. The background is that, at one point, there was a reality gameshow called Priceless which was once huge. But in a desperate attempt to regain falling ratings, the games became more extreme, and the show was pulled following the death of a contestant. And so it went underground, free from censorship and commercial considerations, disseminated via the Internet and publicised via word-of-mouth. We, the audience, are participating in the latest episode.
In the basement, we’re given a number (I was 99) and, looking around, just enough clues to piece the story together – audition videos, application forms, press cuttings, crew passes and an intimidating disclaimer. We meet the crew and the presenter. Wait, wasn’t that crew member one of the contestants? No time for that, it’s the first game.
This was an appropriately gruesome challenge, taking place in a blackened, filthy room. It was a little bit gross, particularly if the sight of a lot of blood makes you nauseous (yeah, that’s me). One of the audience commented adversely on the challenge, and found herself called forward. At this point, things started to get confusing. Was Number 69 a plant? Was she genuinely as nonplussed by events as we were? Did they – did they just pull her tooth out with a pair of pliers? Oh shiiiiittt!!! Even though I’m chummy with the director and know it’s all a play, oh shiiiittt!!!
I hesitate to go through the whole show, because so much of it was based on not expecting what came next. But by the end I reckoned I’d figured out who was the real deal and who were plants. So when the contestants for the final challenge were called forward, I was back in my comfort zone. The contestant next up was 99.
By the end, we were all thoroughly disorientated. I won a false moustache, which is a little redundant given that I have a real one, but you never know. Two of the other “contestants” were a little confused as to whether the backstory of ‘Priceless’ was genuine or not, and the other winner and I spent about five minutes trying to determine if either of us was a plant and if it had finished.
The evening as a whole was different, but not in that “I mean bad but I’m being polite” way. It was the first audience participation event where I genuinely felt part of the action – I found myself chatting to a number of total strangers over the course of the evening, sharing experiences and swapping recommendations and genuinely regretting the end of the night. In short, you can keep your glamorous musicals and giant theatres. Filthy abandoned office blocks are where it’s at.
http://www.theatredelicatessen.co.uk/ – The official website.