Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Theatre review: Bullet Catch

This is going to border on a not-review as I don't really feel as if I'm qualified to tell you what it's like to watch Bullet Catch, the second show at the NT's Shed - at least not from the point of view of the audience. Rob Drummond's one-man show isn't a magic show, but it's a show about magic - or at least one that uses magic tricks as part of its narrative. Perhaps the most notorious magic trick ever is the titular bullet catch, in which a volunteer from the audience shoots a live round at the magician, who catches it - usually in his teeth. Notorious because it's the one that's most often proved fatal to the performer. Such was the case with the (fictional, as far as I can tell) Victorian magician Drummond's show focuses on, accidentally killed by a volunteer who then had to live with the psychological consequences (not to mention the police's inquiries.)

And this is where it becomes tricky for me to tell you what to expect as I can only really give an indication of what one in roughly two hundred people who see this show will experience. Because to recreate the short, fatal relationship between magician and audience member this isn't quite a one-man show, as one of the audience spends the best part of the show on stage with Drummond. Tonight that was me - and you've got a few hundred previous theatre reviews to prove I'm not at Bullet Catch every night (Andy says he was asked by others in the audience if I was a stooge.)


Rest assured you can go see this show with no fear of being dragged up on stage against your will: Everyone is asked to put their hand up at the start then put it down if they don't want to do certain things (most crucial of which is "talk about personal issues in public.") Evidently I was game enough tonight that my hand stayed up to the end, at which point Drummond narrows it down to three, and through the first of the evening's "mind-reading" tricks ends up with one, who gets to spend the next hour on stage in the coat of the story's original Victorian volunteer, assisting Drummond (an actor/writer/director, not previously a magician) with his tricks, and reading out from cards the volunteer's reflections on accidentally killing the magician. So I "helped" levitate a table, but until the end most of it is more "mind-reading" and suggestion. (I have an idea how some of it works, which I'll put in a footnote1 in case people don't want to be spoiled/don't give a shit what I think.) This is perhaps the most uncomfortable part of the play for the volunteer, as for me at least it resembled a public therapy session (and if you do end up performing in this show, a word of advice - reject the "sex" playing card if you happen to pick it in the main mind-reading session, especially if your ex is in the audience. It could get awkward)


Finally of course there's what the whole show has been building up to, and after an hour in the company of an amiable Scotsman, I held up a loaded Glock pistol and shot him in the face (or at least that's what appears to have happened.) The fact that I was home an hour later typing up a review will probably give you a subtle clue as to how that particular trick ended up. So I'm not sure what to say about Bullet Catch, as I'm not really sure what the show is. It keeps coming back to the theme of nihilism, about what sort of person appears to take their own life or someone else's in their hands in the name of entertainment. As I felt (especially at the very end when Drummond, now voicing the Victorian volunteer's thoughts, made one last reference to me after I'd finally gone back to my seat) that this show was very specifically about me as much as it was about anything else, you can understand why I find it hard to judge its merits beyond the fact that it's very entertaining. I suspect that even from a seat in the audience this is about how you respond to this kind of tense situation, and it's interesting how calm I was throughout about the actual shooting2 which had been hyped up for an hour. So Bullet Catch's ultimate message may be that I'm a sociopath. Well, you learn something every day.

Bullet Catch by Rob Drummond is booking until the 1st of June at the National Theatre's Shed.

Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes straight through.

Here's another photo to provide a bit of spoiler space - just imagine me instead as the volunteer.


1My selection of "Save" out of the "Kill/Save/Love" options was predominantly because I was, in part, playing a character in the story, and it had already been determined by the cards I read out from that the story's original volunteer has chosen "Save." However I think even independently that's the choice people would make: Drummond heavily implies before you first select one that if you choose "Kill" you actually wish him harm, and if you choose "Love" you want to shag him; "Save" is the only choice that isn't slightly embarrassing to the volunteer. My explanation for the broken bottle trick is the one I said at the time: The first paper bag had been placed close to me so I got that out of the way first. When it was down to three, placing one in the middle seemed to draw attention to it as (correctly) the dangerous one. His guessing my ex's name as "Andrew" though has me stumped. It should involve him surreptitiously scribbling the name after I revealed it, but whatever distraction he used was bloody effective.

2I genuinely was completely calm about it, my mind immediately went to the fact that Drummond did this the night before and he'll do it again the night after, it's a trick and the show ends with him successfully surviving it. I don't know how it was done, apparently there's been various methods, mostly to do with removing the bullet from the chamber through sleight of hand. I don't think the problem with the gun jamming that had a member of staff come on to check it between test shot and real shot was the way it was done, simply because it would be so inelegant, although people who've been to other performances can perhaps confirm if that technical issue just so happens to occur every night. I did have a bullet casing pop out and rest on my hand after the shot - I wanted to keep it as a souvenir but dropped it. I know people always say guns are surprisingly heavy, I found the Glock surprisingly light, I don't know if that's a clue as to how real it was.

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