Review: The Pudding Club, VAULT Festival

Imagining pregnancy as a 80s-style video game, The Pudding Club is full of big ideas but needs to work on its execution at VAULT Festival

“Are we ready to play the pregnancy simulation game?”

Written by Zhiyuan Jiang and Belle Bao, The Pudding Club has a great concept, highly befitting of the VAULT Festival. What if the process of pregnancy was treated like a game? And more specifically, like a lo-fi semi-interactive video game with added audience participation. With an instantly recognisable plinky soundtrack and jerky repeated moves from the people patrolling the stage, that opening tableaux realises that vision.

We’re introduced to the concept – someone’s gonna have a baby, the audience is going to get to make crucial choices in their story and there’s gonna be games, with points, that do something or other. Fairly soon, it becomes apparent that the execution of this concept is suffering from a hefty bout of morning sickness. There’s a curiousness to the interactive element of the storytelling, (I was really interested to know how it would have gone had the fates decided to make the protagonist have a drink for instance…) but after a couple of rolls of the dice, this aspect disappears from the show.

What we’re left with are mini games in between the trimester-based scenes with a gentle amount of audience interaction involved. These are amiably shambolic and naturally, I ended up on the winning team, but more could have been done to indicate precisely what it was we were playing for. We apparently unlocked some final level but the stakes weren’t clearly explained enough for their impact to register. The production could usefully have concentrated on either the interactivity or the game-playing rather than spreading itself thinly between the two.

In between these shenanigans though, there’s an interesting portrayal of pregnancy which very much has its rose tinted glasses tossed away. Pressure from cold-eyed bosses, the loss of sexual intimacy with partners, late-term catastrophising induced by a lack of sleep – it’s a level of frankness that is a useful corrective to the way so much of our media depicts pregnancy. Personally I wasn’t sure about a late foray into projection but the final grace note was one which hit home just right for me, marrying content and form satisfyingly.

So the ideas behind The Pudding Club are full of potential but something in its execution is lacking in this present form. There needs to be a slickness to proceedings beyond being defeated by curtains and curtain rails (a less fussy design perhaps) and a clearer sense of purpose to its interactive elements, to really give its audience the sense that their contributions are meaningful to the way the story plays out.

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
The Pudding Club is running at VAULT Festival until 27th January

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