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theatredelicatessen presents:

 

Theatre Souk

 

Theatre Delicatessen

 

14 Sept – 16 Oct 2010

 

 

 

 

A review by James Buxton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Join Priceless, a reality TV show where contestants are tortured for prize money; are you game? Bet at the Chaika Casino's roulette table where each number corresponds to a scene from Chekov’s Seagull. Enter Halfcut, a room where a hirsute man awaits your arrival - will you pluck a single hair or shave his entire head? Partake in the Puppet Poker Pit and play Texas Hold 'em with Boris and Sergey, two Bunraku puppets who will lure you into a poker game where there are no winners. 

In the abandoned former headquarters of Uzbekistan Airways situated off Oxford Street, Theatre Delicatessen has opened its doors to an array of young theatre companies to produce a startling variety of promenade performances. The audience are free to wonder about the three floors and basement of the derelict building to encounter the shows and performers at their own pace.

On entry, one is provided with a collection of toy money to exchange and barter with the actors for shows. Unfortunately not all the performers were duped by the plastic coins and there are shows which you will have to pay for along with the entry charge. However do not let this factor put you off, for the quality of shows on offer is enjoyably varied and unexpected.

Any review is subjective and can reveal just as much about the reviewers taste as about the plays flavour.  However within the genre of promenade theatre this subjectivity is amplified, for it is quite possible for you to go to this event and have a completely different experience than I did. Promenade theatre thrives on the assortment of possibilities through the audience being complicit in the action. The fact that you are able to participate and feel actively involved or interrupt the action and refuse to cooperate, enhances the sense of involvement and the potential for you to revisit the same show. Unlike conventional theatre, where the play will not deviate much from the first night to the last and the audience are silent, respectful spectators, you may be entertained or petrified but your physical interaction can only affect the play indirectly, in the form of laughter or applause; here you are abused and idolised directly as you become a member of the cast, you begin to question who are the actors and who are the audience.

I make my way to the bar with my friend and order a Peroni.  We take a seat in front of a stage and a lady dressed in evening wear approaches us and charmingly introduces herself as the host. She informs us a little bit about the performances, whose times are incomprehensibly scrawled onto a blackboard behind her: “So, how did you find out about the show?” “I'm actually here to review it.” She laughs “Oh, I'm speechless” and already I feel like I've let the cat out the bag. I'm struck now by a strange paradoxical parallel between reviewer and actor in the realm of promenade theatre. The job of the reviewer is to write an article based on his experience of the illusion of reality. He does not have to keep his identity concealed but invariably does, despite becoming a conspirator he hides a real secret, that he is a commentator. On the other hand the actors affect reality within the fantasy worlds they create - by emphasising the importance of secrecy they ironically do the exact opposite and through their efforts to entertain you, reveal they are actors.

We head up to the third floor where a smartly dressed man in a waistcoat accosts me and invites me into his tiny cupboard of a boudoir. “I'm afraid only one person can come in at a time sir”. So the first disconcerting effect begins - I am separated from my friend. This is Halfcut. Inside the black, narrow room there is a basin with perfumes beside it and a stool where I sit. The man points to a diagram of a man's body and indicates to me the variety of hairy regions that it is possible for me to pluck for a pound. After the initial banter subsides, I am still uncertain how serious he is, till he offers to allow me into the room with the model. Suddenly I am in a shockingly bright, white room with a long haired model in his boxers sitting on the edge of a massage bed; he shyly peers up at me with his vacant eyes. The man leaves for us to get better acquainted. On the dresser is an array of implements, all clinically lined up on a white sheet. There are tweezers, an electric razor, wax strips and a whole host of other hair removing items. Reluctantly I agree to pluck a hair he has selected from his back. I am not sure why I do it but there is a part of me that wants to see how far I can take it. The pressure within the room is palpable, the awkwardness and the subservience of the semi-naked model make me feel slightly sinister. The presence of the electric razor and the clinical nature of the room carry an ominous quality; one could derive a sadistic self empowerment from the scenario but then again the outcome depends entirely on the participant. Thankfully I'm not a psycho (at least I think I'm not) I just thought was funny and absurd to pull a hair out of a stranger’s back.

Later on in the evening we visit dash Theatre Company's Chaiko Casino. A friendly woman on the door offers to exchange our fake money for three chips and we enter into a dim lit casino, where patrons sit around a roulette table. A croupier takes the bets and a waiter offers us shots of vodka. The wheel is spun to the croupiers call “All bets off.” Every time the ball stops, the lucky number is called out, then there is a sudden clang and black out.  The stage before us is illuminated. In front of us two rooms are divided by a wall with a table in the centre of each. Nina and Treplev from Chekov's The Seagull act out a scene from their last encounter according to the chosen number. This striking event is powerfully contrasted by our immediate return to the relaxed casino, and the casual call of the croupier “Place your bets, please.” This occurs every time the ball stops. A single girl who sits beside us with a large stack of chips mentions “This is this first time I've been out in ages. I really like it but the guy I came with is really not enjoying it.”  I turn to my friend, who also give me the same raised eyebrow of suspicion - is this an actress planted in our midst to upset the balance of the game, can we trust her? Is she a real person? Our scepticism is banished when she bets in the next round loses all her chips, downs another shot of vodka and her grumpy friend tells her he wants to leave. In the casino's guidebook there is an interesting blurb by the creators of the performance who discuss how Chekov created the play so that the lovers’ incompatibility could be portrayed endlessly throughout time, almost like an eternal torture for the characters and a warning to the audience. By aligning these repeated variations with the random number chosen by the roulette wheel, they introduce an element of unpredictability and anarchy to the lover's encounters. Dash creates an intriguing spin on gambling, as the audience, with no financial incentive bet on the outcome of an event that they cannot determine. Unbelievably I win twice and have more chips than I can shake a stick at; unfortunately I'm still as broke as I was when I entered.

I found my highlight of Theatre Souk in the basement at Foxed UP's Priceless, an all female, actor led collective.  A girl gagged, with mascara streaming down her face stares out at you in horror from the posters plastered over the walls in the stairwell leading to the basement.  We are each given a number to replace our name, (I am 119), before descending the stairs to take part in the game show. Through a corridor a bunch of  press cuttings on the walls tell the story of a girl who died in the last episode of the extreme Reality TV show Priceless, thus is has been banned and has been forced underground. Numerous TVs stacked on top of each other play audition videos of the overeager contestants. We progress into a dingy concrete room with one pale light shocking us where we are introduced to the two female contestants, both in green boiler suits, by a bubbly TV presenter in black dress and furs. One is an ecstatically deranged girl who looks like she has OD'd on gummy bears, while the other is an intimidating, masticating chav - both stand behind makeshift wooden pulpits. I think I have seen it all when we bet on which girl can give the most amount of blood before she passes out. As the red fluid oozes along the tubing into beakers from their arms, there is a sense of how far will you let the action go before it steps out of line, but you keep telling yourself, it's only a play right? However, when a girl from the audience is dragged into the toilets and has her tooth wrenched out, which you see on a live video feed, I start to have second thoughts. When they ask for a volunteer, I cannot refuse and am told to cover the menacing girl’s mouth with duct tape and place a black hood over her head. Now I feel like a prison warden in Guantanamo. Suddenly a light sweeps across the windows and we are forced to get down - we have been discovered. There is only so much time left, keep quiet and move. Finally I am given a key by the bandaged hand of the homicidal contestant and I discover in a dark room after the rest of the audience have been invited to leave one after each other, that I am the winner. What this means I can only guess, as I run out the door, down the corridor and up the stairs with the TV presenter’s words ringing in my ears: “Don't look back.”

 

Tues – Sat. Doors open 7pm

Theatre Delicatessen
3-4 Picton Place
London, W1U 1BJ

Market entrance fee £7 plus as much of your earned cash as you can afford.

http://www.theatredelicatessen.co.uk/index.html

 

 

 

 

 

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