Devised: HalfCut and the cast
Reviewer: Steve Barfield
The Public Reviews Rating:
This is billed as a piece of promenade, immersive, interactive theatre about the meaninglessness of life and is surprisingly true to its stated aims, succeeding in being both humorous and witty. We all have a ‘shelf-life’, in the sense that death is our inevitable limit of experience, even if no one actually lives through it and this suggests the kind of humorous take on existentialism that underlies this theatre piece’s overall concept of life a journey through stages. I’m less sure if it will elicit you to begin to live authentically in true existential fashion, but who knows, it might!
While it isn’t a perfect show and from talking to other members of the audience it was clear that audience members had some different experiences, as is inevitable when actors are improvising to interact with the audience, there’s also a real sense that you get what you put in. If there were relatively few striking stage images, apart from the very final one where having reached the top of the abandoned BBC building we let our helium filled balloon avatars go off into the night as a simulacrum of dying and letting go of our lives, it has made me think rather more in retrospect than I’d anticipated.
There is good made of the slightly labyrinthine BBC building and some simple but clever sets by Katherine Heath that manage to evoke various aspects of life’s journey from being ‘born’ through a large vagina to school, higher education, getting a job, marriage, holidays, mid-life over 50’s counselling, a retirement nursing home and finally death ( though some people died along the journey they were allowed to carry on clutching black helium filled balloons rather than the white ones the rest of us had). It was also noticeable for the people you met from the audience and talked to on your journey and it is certainly true that you’ll gain a different perspective if you go to see the show with friends or your partner, as opposed to being by yourself. A chap on a first date ended up ‘losing’ her in the retirement home as her balloon was deflated by Verity Clayton’s rather uncanny angel of death figure.
My own experience was singular as I had difficulty finding the building and arriving a bit late had to be ‘thrown into life’, in this case straight into University ( no childhood, no school), after an improbably quick birth and with very little except the word ‘unsure’ on my personal lifetime record of achievement to discuss with anyone. In fact I never did manage to get anything else written on my record of achievement. Standing around at the American University social gathering I was rather wondering what it was all about and why the party hostess was dressed up in a cuddly animal suit and why there was so little booze? Not like British university parties I hope. I then managed to lose my name badge and was relishing my level of anonymity while chatting with various audience members who seemed to be carrying black balloons as they’d died for one reason or the other, while realising this was all rather turning into a play by Samuel Beckett. Cue an increasing amount of time standing around chatting to people with no idea what was going on. I did eventually get through my mid-life counselling and retirement (with a small quarrel about how one should smile with my ‘counsellor’), but then had difficulty releasing my balloon into the night sky as had it tied it to my wrist. While helpful performers were intoning ‘it’s time to let go’, I was wondering if I had a pair of scissors in my pocket? I had to resort to biting off the string. I am good at tying knots it seems.
I did meet some interesting people on my ‘journey’ and even swapped emails. My family and friends who I spoke to later thought my slightly odd journey through virtual life seemed pretty appropriate for me – which is a bit worrying in a kind of existential/ psychological kind of way. There were some good performances by the company, although the problem with such interactive theatre is partly the result of improvisation, where there is the lack the rigour of learnt lines. There was a lack of performers and consequently a great deal of hanging around. Though I liked this, as had always wanted to be in Waiting For Godot. Thirdly, it was clear that as the devising company are all in their twenties, once we got over 40 the scenarios often seemed limper, less accurate than they might be. Being 50 is less about preparing for retirement and pension planning than reviewing the accumulated experience and baggage of a life of lost friends, disappointments, failed relationship and regrets, of time lost and never to be regained. Was my life really as meaningless as all this and would my final epithet be ‘unsure’? I’ve been thinking about this since I saw the show. Perhaps.