Wednesday 28 April 2010
Would Like to Meet - Barbican
Non Zero One’s Would Like to Meet (henceforth WLTM) is a perky, charming bit of programming on the Barbican’s part. The company, formed by Royal Holloway graduates last year, were apparently picked up after one of their number, who happened to be interning at the Barbican invited someone in programming to come and see his graduation piece. She loved it, and consequently the thing has been re-made for the Barbican. It’s an appropriate back-story for a piece which suggests a fragmented take on fairy-tale romance and happy endings.
The basic set-up of the thing is that you and five others – yup, it’s one of those profitable six-at-a-time shows (well, Internal+1, Guru Guru+1, et al) – assemble in the Barbican foyer, are sat down on a bench marked with six coloured panels, are left for a bit, and are then led over to a set of headphones which you put on and leave on for the remainder of the show’s 45 minute duration.
As such, without having shirked my duty at all, I can only accurately report one-sixth of what the show’s like. I can’t decide whether I should even say what colour route I took (and, indeed, whether the colours remain consistent to the audio-route I was given).
I did happen to see the show with Ian Shuttleworth of the Financial Times and Henry Hitchings of the Evening Standard, so if you’re interested to find out more, perhaps also go check out their reviews (they also both waffle a good deal less than me).
I should also point out, before you get excited and think this sounds like exactly your kind of thing, the show has apparently already sold out – although you could always go queue for returns, I guess...
And so, WTLM itself: well, the experience I had was very pleasant. Indeed, all six of us in the group I saw it with agreed that it was a pretty charming little piece. And not so little, really. While it’s relatively short and gentle, the themes (urg, bleugh, horrible word) are still some of the biggest available – memory, desire, mystery, love, the unknowability of the past and of others, the comfort of strangers, etc.
After an initial burst of ambient noise, there’s a voice in your ear. A pleasant, slightly ironic, young, perhaps playfully seductive male voice. The stuff it says is pretty clear and straightforward for the most part. Imagine this, stand up, look at that, turn left, do you see that? Go towards that. Stop. Look around. Think about this or that.
It doesn’t look like much on paper, but when placed in situ, played into your ears, and delivered in this warm, likable tone, it’s all rather comforting. Not enervatingly so, though. The voice also asks a few difficult questions as it’s leading you around – but of course, it can’t hear your answers, and you never have to say them out loud. But, it does ask you to write things down. Sometimes. Well, it did to me. And while you and your five co-audients are being led around different journeys around the Barbican, sometimes your paths cross. Or narrowly fail to cross (setting up the odd feeling of playing Don’t Look Now with Ian Shuttleworth)
It sets up this mini-meditation in which you drift round the Barbican, sort of at the centre of your own wistful romantic reverie, as if you’re the star of your own rom-com or spy thriller. As such it’s kind of encouraging us to behave in the same sort of solipsistic behaviour we probably undertake on our own anyway, except here it’s validated because we can actually here the voiceover. And there’s an enjoyable loss of our agency.
Part of my route took me to a small bar tucked down some stairs and round the corner from the main Barbican Theatre. Requested to pick up a small camcorder playing back a video of the room filled with people at a party, you are invited to wander round the room, looking at it both on the camcorder screen and at the mess left over from the party in the empty room in which you’re standing. It’s a beautifully spooky sensation, watching the empty spaces where people once stood. And somehow it manages to make the room feel like it stands for pretty much any party that’s ever ended.
At another stage, I was brought back-to-back with a stranger from my group for only a few seconds while she slipped and envelope into my hand and was then moved quickly away again by the instructions in the headset, as if in some John le Carré or Graham Greene novel.
The piece works beautifully. There are little points where you step outside the narrative and think – blimey, this must have taken ages to work out and set up. Not least because of the way your paths cross with the paths of the other people in your group and your headset guide remarks, entirely accurately, on what they are doing. So, while you’re aware that obviously the guide in your head(set) knows what they’re doing because he/it’s telling them what to do on their circuits. But even so, the nifty intricacy in creating likeable mise-en-scene using your fellow audience members – and no doubt putting you unwittingly into some of their scenes – is beautifully realised. Perhaps my favourite moment of the show was watching Evening Standard critic Henry Hitchings standing on a balcony in the Foyer throwing a paper aeroplane at one of the other members of the group a floor below, while the audio-guide wondered aloud why they were doing that. WLTM also has a GSOH.
So, overall, a nice, uncomplicated complicated little pleasure. Possibly not hitting all the high notes it could, but as a first piece of work from a young company, this is a remarkably accomplished bit of work. Here’s to lavish R&D grants and grander ambitions being realised for Non Zero One in the future.