The BAC is a good place to go if you’re looking for something completely different and you’ll certainly find that here. At first, you’re invited to leave your bags and coats to one side of the room and take a seat at one of four round tables which offer a big pot of tea, a plate of biscuits and a selection of the day’s newspapers. There is time to find a story that angers you and then share your stories and opinions with your table before the top stories are read out to the group. From here, the performers take the roles of various politicians or celebrities with whom those stories are concerned so that the audience can ask them questions.
If, like me, you were expecting this to develop into a “News Revue”-style satirical improvisation, you’d be surprised when the performers don’t answer your questions. They are not there to provide hypothetical answers to reach some conclusion but to simply listen. We move on. The audience are asked to stand up and represent people in war torn countries and political debates. The performers, Richard Dufty and Jessica Hoffmann, paint a vivid picture of the scene and lead us to appreciate a stronger connection to events happening far beyond our daily lives. There are moments of silent contemplation where this clearly makes an impact. At a piano (and later a drumkit), Lewis Gibson also plays host to this group therapy session, in between recording what the audience say.
This isn’t a show for people who feel threatened by audience participation or who take little interest in the news. There are points at which we, as audience, are invited to speak and although there is no obligation, there was a feeling of reluctance and some discomfort among some of those present. This production thrives on strong opinions from the public voice and a more reticent audience may highlight the substantial shift in reality when the performers begin their bad-news exorcism. We are given masks of people from the obituaries section and asked to whisper their name into Gibson’s ear with the rest of his head inexplicably being covered in newspaper and packing tape whilst he discordantly assaults the piano. Then Dufty enacts a possession by spirits of various politicians and unpopular newsworthy types. This began like an abstract comic impression sketch but without the impressions and then without most of his clothes. Hoffmann casually spits water all over the floor before fitting Dufty with a large phallus and potbelly made crudely from newspaper and packing tape. The music and lights build with the climax of the ritual as he prances and gurns his way about the space getting louder and more incomprehensible.
It was at this point that I had a quick look about the room to see if we were being filmed as the subjects of some practical joke. This political exorcism went on for far too long and progressed only in volume and absurdity. It became apparent to me that the stories we had been talking about at the start, and our opinions of them, had very little influence on the action and I felt they lost that relationship to the audience. The performers seems to be having a wonderful time jumping around and screaming, letting off a fire extinguisher and tearing newspaper, but I didn’t see the point.
Like a storm, the raging torrent came and went, leaving darkness and silence and as Hoffman led us outside, extracts of the earlier audience recordings neatly played on her portable radio. In the cold, the performers gathered again to see off the stories that had supposedly angered us before taking their applause. Despite the disconnection to the craziness, this final act brought a genuine sense of catharsis and allowed me to understand the goal of this production. The idea to rid people’s anger at the world is noble if not adventurous, but could have been so much better attempted without the self-absorbed meaningless jumping and shouting in the middle. Of course there must be a journey for the audience but if it’s a ritual for the sake of ritual, the audience aren’t going to get much out of it.