Okay, if I can review live music I am sure I can have a reasonable crack at Theatre, can’t I?
I have seen several productions by local Swindon theatre group TS, who do not seem to like to do things the traditional way (using music venues to stage their shows for example, as in this case at The Victoria in Swindon). They are not known for pulling any punches either. Previous productions have included some pretty dark characters; prostitutes, serial killers, paedophiles and suicidal teenagers all featuring along with some of the creepiest performances and writing I have seen on local stages. As a group they all seem to have perfected the art of getting under your skin and unsettling you and they have continued this with their latest production, titled #theorder.
However, in a departure from their usual MO the majority of the unease generated by this play stems not so much from the characters, who are far less vulnerable or twisted than usual, or from the on stage action but from the background to the plot. Starting with some fairly scary projections of social media facts you quickly realise that this is a very current plot, as it unfolds you are left with a distinct thought that this could easily happen, we are balanced on a fairly keen knife’s edge and one wrong twitch could have us all tumbling down the path the plot follows.
Taking place in contemporary times, in our social media saturated lives, it takes a searing look at how far under the spell of our little glowing screens of tech we have fallen, and how easily influenced society has become, acting as the majority seem to do with a bizarre herd mentality, following any instructions like odd little sheep fearful of the nipping teeth of media sheep dogs. As they point out, how could the X Factor appear to have such cultural relevance if people had the ability to think freely, or most of the vapid music in the charts be successful if radio stations actually broadcast anything with artistic merit? Society does as it is told, yes more subtly than Orwell foretold in 1984, but the effect is very similar.
Following the fall out of a happening known simply as #theorder we follow a disparate bunch of survivors holed up in a shelter, and follow them as they try to make sense of what has happened. Of course, all is not as it seems, these are not ordinary survivors, they are all there for a reason, and as the story unfolds and we get to learn more about who these people are, why they are here and what they have become involved in we follow a roller coaster of a narrative arc in their stories. Who is good? Who is bad? What has happened? And why?
Although the characters are less colourful and bombastic than in other productions, the actors still work their socks off to make them believable, imbuing each with a fragility and fear at first, that as they learn more about what has happened, becomes replaced with determination, horror and action.
This particular production was not set up in the usual “audience faces stage” format. Rather the set was on the floor of the venue, and the actors performed in and around the audience. This added so much, we felt involved, inside the story, like we were genuine fly’s on the wall dipping in and out of the scene. It also helped to ramp up the tension, being this close to the actors you could feel the pressure of the situation and the atmosphere.
TS perform uncompromising theatre for modern times, relishing challenging themselves as much as the audience. Go and see whatever they come up with next. It may creep you out or shock you. But it will also make you think. And that is good art.