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The Situation Room – The Lowry, Salford

Directors: James Blakey / Tom Mansfield

Reviewer: Poppy Helm

[Rating:4]

For any fan of innovative theatre, The Situation Room has an alluring premise: in a ‘secret location’ down a quiet Salford street, an empty building has been transformed into a cabinet room where the audience are empowered to make decisions that will change the face of history. Developed in collaboration with The Lowry, Oscar Mike have created a truly interactive theatre experience.

Upon arrival at the venue the audience are greeted by cast members and asked a series of quick fire questions to determine their allegiance – USSR or USA. Inside, the two countries are seated facing each other which, along with a game asking them to ‘collaborate or compete’ with their opposite number, quickly a division buildsbetween the parties. Although the cast encourage introductions and inject enough early humour to put the audience at ease, from this point onwards the objective is clear; it’s war.

This is a fast paced piece, enhanced by a tense soundscape (Oliver Soames) and a compact set bleached by harsh spotlighting. At times it’s a little difficult to absorb the barrage of information – something which feels important given the interactive nature of the performance – but thankfully this doesn’t detract from the overall effect. The constant focal point is a chalkboard showing a map of the battleground – oil-rich El Khadra – with each section of the country won or lost through decisions made by audience members. Some are made collectively, others by a sole representative, but all under considerable pressure and never in the same way twice.

Benjamin Stokely (Simon Carroll-Jones) and Andrey Sergeyevich Budka (Robert Macpherson) both attempt to influence their cabinet through impassioned and persuasive arguments, progressing the narrative smoothly regardless of the chosen outcome (which presumably can have several possible permutations). Both actors deliver high calibre performances in this very intimate environment. Interestingly, despite their conflicting ideals they often mirror each other in their physical actions – a reminder of the similar responsibility they shoulder. After all – who ever really ‘wins’ a war?

Runs until 3rd November

 

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