BWW Reviews: THE ARCHITECTS, Shunt at the Biscuit Factory, December 4 2012
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by Gary Naylor
You push through an ordinary door on an ordinary industrial estate in ordinary old Bermondsey - so far so good. Then it's into a disorienting maze of narrow and low corridors, sometimes opening on to rooms, sometimes not, before emerging into a vast space reminiscent of the lounge in The Overlook Hotel, albeit without Crazy Jack and Lloyd the barman.
But, after a lengthy manifesto about the nature of architecture (written by Daniel Libeskind in that polemical language so favoured by architects) the craziness starts. We're on the cruise of a lifetime, complete with choppy seas visible through portholes, being entertained by the house band. And this is no ordinary cruise, it's a cruise where anything goes, as our Skyped-in relatives back home keep reminding us.
The activities available become more and more bizarre (though, if truth be told, not much more bizarre than those on offer in a Vegas Resort Hotel) and the crew begin to lose control of the passengers as the ship descends into a Lord of the Flies style anarchy (reminding me of The Day Today sketch about a stalled commuter train). Just when we're wondering how crazy things will get, the men abandon ship one way, the women another, into a vast dark space in which, after a bit of video ridiculing our helpless predicament, there's a Cirque du Soleil style rope entr'acte. Finally, the denouement, the lights and a trip back through the winding corridors.
You're right - I didn't really get it. Though the spectacle is occasionally extraordinary - the spaces have to be seen to be believed - the narrative was too disjointed, possibly too demanding, making the unease it created unanchored in any sense of place or time. Though physically inside the performance, psychologically the audience were excluded by the lack of orthodox character development - who were these people and why should we care about them? And though the unease felt by the combination of darkness and open, cold space was real, the nagging thought that health and safety wouldn't allow for anything really dangerous to be visited upon us, ameliorated any sense of actual danger.
Shunt have secured an extraordinary space and create some arresting moments, but as a whole, the evening is not sufficently coherent to engage this passenger who cruised home more bemused than amazed.
The Architects continues until 2 February.