Sunday, 16 December 2012

Theatre review: The Architects

I've never seen anything by Shunt before, but The Architects doesn't make me think I'll be rushing back. Allegedly inspired by the legend of the Minotaur, this is a site-specific show in a vast, freezing former biscuit factory in Bermondsey - there's a reference to the Labyrinth in the tunnels you have to traverse to get to the main playing area, but you're more likely to get lost trying to find the completely un-signposted entrance to the show. Once past these MDF walls you find yourself in the bar of a huge cruise liner, where you wait for the show to start - it's worth noting that nothing happens until 70 minutes after the "doors open" time on your ticket. As it turns out, the bit waiting in the bar is the highlight, as long as you've brought someone to chat to. Eventually a decent band arrive, as do four members of the "Biscuit family," cruise organisers with nonspecific North European accents, who, between blackouts, make announcements about events on the ship. Occasionally there's a video link-up with the same four actors playing the decadently wealthy owners, checking up on how things are going.

There's hints of interesting ideas, none of them remotely developed. The cruise seems to be based around the idea that the guests might like to take on the forms of animals to have sex with, say, a dolphin. This may or may not be what brings about the Minotaur that we're told has run amok on the ship later on. Some of the activities we're told about have funny premises. Eventually the threat of the monster sees us evacuated (a joy to briefly warm up by moving a bit) and split by gender into separate dark, curtained-off areas, where screens instruct us on the shouts and screams we need to make for the benefit of the other half of the audience; again, this isn't properly explored. The climactic scene has a pair of acrobats hanging from a network of ropes that gradually drop from the ceiling: Could be breathtaking, but it's far too slow and the acrobatics visually unengaging - if nobody in the audience gasps even slightly when your cast's hanging from the ceiling then you've probably not taken advantage of the peril of the situation properly.

This is theatre specially designed for people who want to tell their friends they liked it, to appear clever (or as Andy put it, "what a load of wank.") Andy also made a comment about the production values which got me thinking about the amount of small theatres struggling for money, while Shunt clearly have enough for a vast venue and hugely elaborate designs but haven't got round to writing a show to put in them.

The Architects by Shunt is booking until the 2nd of February at V22 workspace, The Biscuit Factory, 100 Clements Road, London SE16 4DG.

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes straight through (2 hours 30 minutes from the time doors open.)

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