Suspicious Package ***

C too, 5 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

The 1947 film noir Lady in the Lake, based on Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled detective novel of the same name, is shot entirely from the detective’s perspective. The camera smokes, gets kissed, punched and shot at, the idea being to translate the iconic first-person viewpoint of the detective novel to the silver screen. The viewer is meant to feel like he (or to a lesser extent she) is the detective.

A similar intention lies behind Suspicious Package, and the technology of today’s audioguided performance is much better equipped to achieve it than that of 40s cinema. With the help of four video iPods loaded with instructions, four participants every hour become a detective, a tough guy, an heiress and a showgirl in a boilerplate noir mystery.

These are instantly recognisable genre archetypes, easy to ham up regardless of the participants’ acting ability. Be aware, however, that cross-gender casting can occur and that all participants are required to wear their identifying costume pieces out and about on the Grassmarket.

As well as cueing actions and dialogue, the iPods supply both the laconic internal monologue (via audio) and flashbacks (via video) that typify noir literature. Reading lines off the screen limits engagement with fellow participant-performers – other similar practitioners deliver dialogue aurally, with more success – but onscreen maps eliminate the problems associated with aurally delivered directions (like people’s different walking speeds) and free up the audio track for more character-establishing internal monologue.

As for the plot, well, it’s at least convoluted enough to sustain interest for the necessary 45 minutes. Whether it’s satisfying or rewarding depends entirely on the level of investment and commitment from the participants, and while it’s hard not to commit to a character whose innermost thoughts are running loud and clear through your head, constantly referring to the screen for lines does make it difficult to remain in character.

Written by Gyda Arber

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