I do love theatre, and I do love things that are a little ‘different’ – so I was looking forward to the promenade, site-responsive theatre production by DreamThinkSpeak at Somerset House recently called In The Beginning Was The End.
The blurb didn’t really say much about it to be honest: “A new large-scale, site-responsive theatre production, inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci, The Book of Revelation and the world of Mechatronics
Take a journey through the maze-like underground passages and unseen spaces of King’s College and Somerset House into a world of calamitous accidents and divine revelations.
Mixing Leonardo-inspired hydraulics and modern mechanical engineering with dreamthinkspeak’s special blend of film, installation and live performance, it reveals a vision of the world either on the verge of collapse – or the brink of rebirth.
dreamthinkspeak return to Somerset House after the sell-out success of their 2004 show Don’t Look Back.” But hey, that’s all good, isn’t it?
I had experienced the fantastic Punch Drunk’s Black Diamond production around the streets of Shoreditch that was a completely immersive experience, and also to the amazing The New World Order by Hydrocracker – a site-responsive piece within Shoreditch Town Hall. I had also been to the Barbican’s promenade performance of Hansel & Gretel by Catherine Wheels Theatre Company which was also excellent. So I had high hopes for this, which was by comparison a lot more expensive!
We were ushered in groups of ten across a courtyard, and down some steps and through a maze of corridors to a meeting room, with a screen showing us the events in another similar meeting room.
We were joined by one of the actors and off we went – it started off very promising, complete with alarms, a bit of running, lab coats and foreign language.
And then it kind of fizzled out for quite a while. We were left to wander aimlessly around darkened labs with bleeping equipment and books of research. That was quite interesting for a while. i wondered if we were meant to be looking for clues – but nothing jumped out at me really.
I played with some of the dials and made some old-fashioned frequency waves change oscillation and felt a bit naughty for doing so, but I really didn’t know what I was meant to be doing or experiencing.
There were some models and screens with various scenarios showing, and once we got round, I realised that they had been depicting ‘scenes’ to come. There were a couple of scientists that were working at their benches too – one powering a light with lemons and another writing formulas on a wall.
They interacted with us, but in a Germanic-sounding language, which was quite amusing.
We were then ushered into a bright shiny succession of rooms that were meant to be within a company making innovative products – and we were introduced to these products, again in a mainly indecipherable language. This was by far the best part of the production.
After visiting their labs, we went to their ‘Complaints Centre’ where a team of workers sat, eventually indivdiually showing their distaste for their employees by having a mental breakdown, stripping off completely and cli,bing a spiral staircase at set intervals.
It was rather beautiful and dramatic to see this spectacle, but being British, I wasn’t quite sure where I was supposed to be looking. this wasn’t helped by one of the guys appearing to have a semi-on – especially has he kept catching my eye and grinning slightly. I did start to wonder whether he was even part of the production, or if he was an audience member who’d decided to have a go himself – he seemed totally contrasting to the rest of them. or maybe THAT was part of the show too!
Oh it’s all so confusing!
The literature that we were given only as we left mentions Da Vinci, The Koran, John the Baptist and the Bible but I found the whole thing a little dull, confusing and very much style over substance. I like surreal, but this was rather too obscure for my tastes. Far too conceptual.
Also, the literature tells me that the piece is meant to raise the question of whether we are really in a world of development or a world of collapse. That wasn’t something I had picked up on through my 70 minute aimless wandering – and perhaps I should have had some literature to go round with – some friendly signposts as to what I was meant to be thinking or feeling – or even just taking notice of!