Rotating in a Room of Images

Battersea Arts Centre, 21 – 23 May 2009

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

If you’re interested in audio-instructed performance, Battersea Arts Centre is the place to go. Their Forest Fringe Previews allowed a few lucky participants to experience Rotozaza’s then-unfinished GuruGuru, and their BURST festival, running until 30 May, includes not only more Rotozaza work but also Rotating in a Room of Images by Swedish artists Lundahl and Seitl.

In audio-instructed productions, unrehearsed members of the public are given headphones that deliver prerecorded directions, making them at once audience and performer. Gathering multiple examples of this relatively new art form together under one banner allows its practitioners to prove that it isn’t just a one-trick gimmick; the technique can be applied to a variety of different styles and situations, and can have a variety of different outcomes for the participants.

For instance, while Rotozaza’s Wondermart tries hard to make participants feel safe, Rotating in a Room of Images does the opposite. Participants spend the majority of the 15-minute production in pitch darkness, guided only by invisible hands and the spooky voice in the headphones. The overwhelming feeling is of powerlessness. On your own, you’re incapable even of escaping the darkened space, much less of finding “the Room” to which the voice continually refers. You’re forced instead to rely on the goodwill of expressionless figures glimpsed moving in slow motion during brief periods of visibility – and on the disembodied voice in your head.

The actual content of Rotating in a Room of Images is everything critics of fringe theatre accuse fringe theatre of being – oblique, opaque, and so open to interpretation that it may as well mean nothing at all – but it’ll still leave you emotionally shaken. Whatever that says about this specific audio-instructed production, it’s evidence that the technique in general possesses the power not only to amuse, but also to shock. It’s difficult to decide whether to classify productions like this as theatre, but that breadth of potential should be an incentive to get them under theatre’s umbrella before some other medium claims them as its own.

Written by Lundahl and Seitl

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