Review: Your Nation Loves You, Old Vic Tunnels

“Do you think I want to be down here? It’s cold, and it’s wet, and it’s well, just a bit shit really”

Some might say that there is a time and place for the act of making love to be represented through the medium of modern dance. Personally I don’t think there is any place in this world for it, not least in the cold dark tunnels underneath Waterloo station during an hour and 45 minutes of experimental theatre when you’re standing on your feet throughout.

Your Nation Loves You is a new play by a (relatively) new company called :DELIRIUM: taking place in the atmospheric Old Vic Tunnels, a fascinating venue for an intriguing looking promenade play. 12 people, selected by the government and confined underground, placed into a network of tunnels with no explanation. As the weeks turn into months, attempts at forming a new community in the face of little hope are tentatively succeeding , but when the supplies they were receiving regularly stop, already bubbling tensions threaten to overspill.

The play itself aside for the moment, so many things just felt fundamentally wrong with this production. There were too many people in the group, meaning that it was mostly very difficult to get a position where you could see the acting, and whereas the episodic nature of Edmond at Wilton’s Music Hall (another promenade production) allowed for constant reconfigurations of the audience, the scenes here were quite lengthy, meaning that if you ended up badly positioned, you missed a lot. There was no concession to letting the group move from one location to the next as we moved through the play: scenes started straightaway and so we often missed a minute or two by the time one had reached the new actors. And most unforgivable was the constant use of incidental music. That the play itself could not create the requisite atmosphere in such a quirky venue speaks volumes, and given the issues with the acoustics in the tunnels, playing a soundtrack over the dialogue at times verged on the ridiculous.

It was acted competently enough, but with so little development of plot, story or character progression, it was hard to care much about anyone. With little explanation forthcoming, the initial premise was squandered and in its place came a less interesting (for me) study of how we as a society behave under extreme pressure. And when you don’t care about characters as they are talking, it is even worse when they start making love through the medium of modern dance. This was an overlong sequence that had me alternately looking in vain for the door and stuffing my scarf in my mouth to prevent my giggles from echoing too much: anyone who thinks that two makeshift watering cans touching is erotic should be locked in these tunnels for good for real. When the physical theatre returned towards the end, my heart sank. This is completely the wrong type of venue to incorporate this kind of work, with an ambitious running time, padding the action out with these sequences felt like a punishment to the feet, and with the temperature being so low, left us unnecessarily chilled to the bone.

The initial use of the tunnels promised to be an interesting one, but as the play progresses, it is apparent that there has been little imagination used in utilising the location’s idiosyncrasies. Only with the revelations towards the end does it appear how the venue has been used, but this adds nothing to our own experience and so seems a wasted opportunity. Upon arrival, one is given a survival kit from the “Department of Data Protection” containing warnings, a match, a sticking plaster, some dried pineapple and a sweetie, a nice little touch but one which wasn’t mentioned or utilised in the play, so I just felt sorry for whichever poor soul has filled all these bags up!

As an introduction to a new venue for me, this was interesting. In terms of a drama, I found it sadly lacking and the whole experience did not live up to its initial promise which was a real shame. As a new company, I think there’s a lesson to learn both for :DELIRIUM: in developing new shows, but also to all theatre companies in really examining what works well in particular spaces.

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes (with no interval)
Note: wrap up really warm, it gets so so perishing down there and one is standing still for long periods.
And thanks to http://ayoungertheatre.wordpress.com/ for explaining things to me!

7 Replies to “Review: Your Nation Loves You, Old Vic Tunnels”

  1. You know you're always wondering if male nudity or directly addressing the audience is going to be this year's "thing?" I have a horrible feeling it's actually "innovative" (*cough* *splutter*) movement that's there for no other reason than "we kept having to do this at drama school so SURELY we're actually meant to use it somewhere?" I still hadn't recovered from Henry V so I really could have done without it here.

  2. Ah, male nudity on stage how I miss thee. Although am off to Hair tonight…and in Beyond the Horizon I had the strange experience of a character taking off his shirt and washing himself from a bucket whilst making eye contact with me almost entirely throughout, I didn't know where to look 😉 (well you know what I mean!), quite a view from the front row!

    This on the other hand had no redeeming features. And even the twist, which barely registered with me, I don't think was 'a good thing' because it added nothing to our own experience of the evening, it just limited how much of the tunnels we could see. Harrumph. I take it you're booked into Beyond the Pale?

  3. If you mean have I booked for Beyond the Horizon then yes, although not until the end of May and I have 3rd row so I guess I won't be getting any eye-contact. (I'm assuming that Beyond the Pale was an understandable Freudian slip because you were still thinking about Your Nation Loves You.)

  4. Ah wait, now I see there actually IS a show called Beyond the Pale, just looked at your review. No, the phrases "interactive theatre" and "Southwark Playhouse" together sent me into a cold sweat after the last time. Have booked now for Monday though.

    (This is still Nick, I think LJ's having problems so it's not verifying me for some reason.)

  5. Unsurprisingly, I hadn't intended to go either but fate conspired to put a ticket in my hand! And I'd be interested to hear what you made of it. The original reference was made as I felt it was a much better use of space, but as I bet you've been to much more genuinely interactive theatre than I, I'd like to know your take.

  6. I've put my BTP review up now, which I think largely agrees with yours. It's definitely bizarre though how similar two shows can be in theory, and so completely different in practice.

  7. The survival bag is used throughout, you just had to pay attention. You could interact with the actors – giving the food to one character who force fed to to the girl who had stopped eating. And at the end when everyone says the famous last words (a brilliant touch I thought) a lot of people lit up their matches and blew them out when they felt ready. You really didn't think to use anything in your kit?

    I personally thought it was a very beautiful piece and I thought the music only added to it.

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