16 – 26 November 2009

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

This latest addition to the audio-instructed performance genre is, at least in terms of sheer scale, the most ambitious work of its kind yet attempted. But while that ambition is what makes HALL worthwhile – not just as a dramatic experience but as proof that audio-instructed performance still has exciting new places to go – it is also the root of the production’s problems.

The Hall itself, a secret location divulged only after you’ve signed up for your audioguide, is vast, varied (with a pleasing balance of long corridors, poky cupboards and cavernous junk-filled auditoria) and eerie, especially after dark. A number of performers bustle around some areas; in a spooky contrast, others are deserted and echoing. Participants’ audioguides must be started precisely on time, and the cast’s choreography has to be timed to the second, otherwise the performers won’t be doing what the guides say they’re doing where the guides say they’re doing it.

As if that wasn’t enough to handle, the audioguides vary depending on the participants’ start times, so the performers aren’t just repeating one sequence of movements and lines, but a whole cycle. No wonder the company ended up overreaching themselves.

There are just too many things that can go wrong, on the company’s end and on the participants’. I started my audioguide ten or fifteen seconds too late, which made me very slow to respond when asked questions by performers. My fault! At one point I was led to an office where a man at a desk issued me my Freedom Pass. My guide drowned him out with instructions to read a magazine while I waited; there were none. Not my fault! Later I was directed to enter a specific numbered door. It was too dark to make out the door numbers, I entered the wrong one, and the next five minutes of instructions demanded interaction with objects and performers I couldn’t find. Partially my fault, but not entirely.

Issues like the production quality of the sound file, or the minutiae of the synchronisation between audio and live performance, are infinitely less interesting to discuss than the story the production is telling, or the atmosphere it creates. In this case, unfortunately, I can’t criticise the narrative because I missed chunks of it; the best I could do was notice recurring characters, like the architect (female, but referred to confusingly as “he” by the audioguide), the shy young actress and the corporate spy. And I can’t criticise the atmosphere because I was too busy checking that my problems weren’t due to my mp3 player having accidentally paused itself or skipped ahead to breathe any of it in.

Viewed in context, HALL is a necessary step in the evolution of audio-instructed performance to a form capable of telling big, sprawling stories as well as brief, compact ones. Viewed in isolation, unfortunately, it’s a logistical shambles with potential but no punch.

Written by Lowri Jenkins

Crew includes Felix Mortimer (artistic director)

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