“I’ve listened to all the stories of my generation, then watched ’em get sick or fade away. And it wasn’t this world that killed ’em. It was the other… the memory of it.”
Wandering into the Old Vic Tunnels and being directed towards the section with the seats where the action takes place, one walks past a collection of several strikingly constructed images and montages, animal skins, a cat’s cradle of ropes and lastly a hanging, dissected tree being the most stunning, it wouldn’t look out of place in many a modern art gallery. It’s a highly effective way of setting a suitably atmospheric mood upon entering the complex to see Ditch, the collaboration between the Old Vic and HighTide, but sadly not one which is maintained.
Ditch is set in a post-apocalyptic Britain, the government has largely fallen, violence reigns but a small group of people in the North have banded together in an attempt to keep civilisation going. It’s depressingly reminiscent of Your Nation Loves You, the previous production to take up residence beneath Waterloo, and one which did not go down well in this household. Still, I was determined to give this venue another chance as I can see its potential and hoped that Ditch would be an enlightening experience for me in that respect.
It is early days yet for this show (I saw a preview), but I fear it was not one that I would enjoy whatever point in the run I made my visit. It suffers from the fact that it revisits this doom-laden collapse of civilisation theme that seems to be extremely popular at the moment although quite why this is so I do not know: especially since they all seem to revolve around the same issues and use similar formats for their cast, shouty young men, one shouty old man and people complaining about lack of food. But even that aside, I found it nigh on impossible to get into this production, there was insufficient attempt to help us to get to know and like the characters and so it was hard to care about their debate over the single potato in their kitchen or the abrupt falling in love of one of the shouty young men and the kitchen girl who had shown little interest in anything apart from getting her rocks off. It just felt really muddy to me, nothing was clear or explained fully enough for me and so it failed to engage me
Despite my misgivings about the promenade format used in Your Nation Loves You, I found myself grumbling about the use of regular theatre seating for this. It just strikes me as odd that you would come to such an idiosyncratic venue like these tunnels but essentially treat it as you would any old theatrical space. It was particularly noticeable when we were exhorted to look up at the stars in the sky as an extremely noisy train thundered above and dust and bits of masonry fell down onto the cast! There seemed little point in having imported this play into the Tunnels, I suspect it would be better suited in a regular auditorium.
That said, there was some extremely effective lighting design from Matt Prentice and the costumes looked good. Oh and they obviously had the heating on for awhile as it wasn’t uncomfortably cold in there despite the chilly May night air. But all told, these were small comforts on what was ultimately a disappointing night for me.