“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.