Finding the method in the madness and the stimulation in the state of emergency, Parabolic Theatre‘s high-tempo, interactive, political piece was an engaging – if exhausting – experience worth shouting about.
Unless you’re living under a rock, or have fled to a deserted island somewhere in fear of your own sanity (don’t blame you), you will know that we in the UK are experiencing politically unstable times. Do you think, when push comes to shove, you could do better than the politician when it comes to a crisis? Then I’ve got just the play for you . . .
It’s 1979, the vote of no confidence in Callaghan’s Labour government is looming and the Labour party finds itself pitted against the unions as strikes cripple the country. And we, the audience, are invited (as special political advisors) to a secret location to try and find a way out of the chaos.
After receiving an invitation letter from The Rt Hon. James Callaghan impressing the importance of the evening’s activities, I rang the buzzer outside an unassuming office block and said the magic words into the intercom. I was quickly ushered, not into a theatre as I expected, but into a dingy office room decked out with political files stuck to walls, meeting tables covered in paper and used mugs and a fully functional Ceefax. Actors strolled around in drab 70’s suits, making jokes about the rise of Margaret Thatcher. The set and sartorial attention to detail was impressive, evoking an immediate suspension of disbelief from the moment I stepped into the room.
“Infected by the adrenaline, we became those cynical political movers and shakers we claim to hate”
This instant immersion in the world of the 1970’s Labour party is definitely necessary for this play, as when the action starts it does not stop for breath. It may have been the ‘Winter of Discontent’ but the heat was on, as the witty, but world-weary, senior advisor David (Tom Black) explains the situation: we, the audience, must talk down the unions and make sure the government wins the vote of no confidence and remains popular in the eyes of the public and the press. We would have to face these challenges in person, over the phone and even on live TV. Nothing big then!
From there, all hell broke loose. Being able to work in whichever area suits you – policy creation, political manipulation, crisis management, you name it – the responsibility is piled on, leaving the audience space to be creative while still under the careful guidance of the performers. And with the outcome of the evening changing with every single choice made, one rash decision could make or break everything . . .
The high stakes, intense tempo and level of personal responsibility were the perfect combination to keep me engaged and invested. It also left me feeling pretty grateful that I am not in government, as I quickly found my morals flying out the window. Whether schmoozing a lecherous MP on a painfully 1970’s phone, manipulating a journalist to spill dirt on a major union, or literally sprinting across the room shouting about how we need to announce a ban on fox hunting, ends became far more valuable than means.
And, looking around the room, I could see a similar transformation come over my fellow audience members. Infected by the adrenaline, we became those cynical political movers and shakers we claim to hate – ethics go out the window when you have to sell British territories to control inflation (sorry Gibraltar). Who knew politics could be such fun?
The experience was addictive and time rushed by, despite being a full two and a half hours long. I was subsumed by the bizarre logic of a party in crisis, sustained only by an adrenaline high and several glasses of wine from the bar (which changed its prices to match the inflation fluctuations – a really nice touch).
“Highly commendable and piercingly relevant”
The whole experience would be impossible without the considerable talent and quick thinking of the cast. Whether multi-roling, holding incredible amounts of knowledge in their heads or simply managing to keep up with the anarchy the audience was creating, all of them deserve extolling to the rooftops. Special mention, however, must go to the monotone and done-with-all-this-nonsense Treasury civil servant Karen (Zoe Flint) whose character was like a cross between Terri Coverley from In the Thick of It and Roz from Monsters Inc (‘I’m watching you Wazowski’) in a perfectly and painfully 70’s outfit.
Through the cast’s hard work, the audience were taken on a full journey from a group of strangers to become a team united and focused on one goal – the thickness of the tension as we huddled round the radio waiting for the outcome of the vote was enough to prove this.
It is true to say this performance suits a certain type of theatre-goer – don’t go if you’re not ready to improvise in front of an audience, remember a bucket load of acronyms or haven’t had enough sleep the night before – but to that certain type of theatre-goer, I cannot recommend this play enough (although side effects may include a re-examining of your ethics and an accidental slipping into a posh politics accent). I would also recommend slightly more research into this period of history than my quick scan of Wikipedia on the tube afforded me.
Crisis? What Crisis is immersive theatre at its finest. Highly commendable and piercingly relevant, it balances entertainment value with hints of the ease with which individual morals can be lost in the political machinations of Westminster. If that chaos is what government is really like, then God save the political advisors.