Chapel off Chapel 5 – 8 May 2021
Kieran Gould-Dowen, principal of Impending Storm Productions, has crafted a clever, entertaining, and thought provoking three hour experience about what ails us as a society and how we can regain our sovereignty. At the forefront of immersive theatre, Gould-Dowen stages a hilarious parody of our digital world plaited with ethical dilemmas and an exhortation to take responsibility as informed, curious, concerned citizens. His prescient work was written in 2018 and highlights our reductionist thinking and reliance on reality TV shows & the non-evidence based internet to inform our decision making on matters of human justice as we explore politics, power and control and equality.
A sort of ‘sleepers wake’ on steroids, our awareness is activated by the play’s humour and pathos. As a tragicomedy the social messages are most likely to be received and considered whereas pure drama may feel too heavy and fail to impart the big picture point. We all laughed a lot throughout the evening and laughing certainly enables us to take the subtle messages on board; we learn best when we are having fun. But I hasten to add, there is no preachy imperative. We can freely choose to attend on either level; simply as a great comedy, or as entertainment that also invites us to ponder some significant issues.
‘TEWNBT’ invites us (as the studio audience) to the live TV show, ‘Judge Your Neighbour’ where we get to decide who lives and dies. Five naughty criminals go head to head in brutal and daring challenges in a bid for our support. Four will be executed, and one will walk free as justice is placed in our hands.
The social network has taken over as the governing power and the legal system has been handed to the entertainment world. We’re subjected to a roller coaster of emotions as we delve more deeply into the actors’ stories while realising how manipulative media puppeteers can be.
The creative team and cast of actors form an ensemble that delivers pleasurable and confronting theatre.
Like the experience of attending a reality TV studio, the main actors warm us up as we slowly trail in to take our seats over a period of twenty minutes before the play begins. Make sure you arrive early to enjoy all their posing and posturing to music, witty asides and retorts, and amusing behaviour as they run up and down the aisles ‘getting to know us’ before the show begins.
The four main actors must be tight – the comperes, the judge, and the ambitious dogsbody – these roles are crucial to the success of the evening. Happily, due to strong actors and sound directing and choreography, they’re fabulous and work generously together.
Frank Kerr and Mollie Mooney, as the Comperes ‘Charlie’ and ‘Annabel’ are superb as they consistently engage us throughout the night. Their ‘camera on’ and ‘camera off’ characters are outstanding as they adroitly banter with us in the audience. Both embody archetypal comperes, and contort their facial expressions and bodies perfectly.
Luca Romani as ‘Pascal’, the lowly assistant on a slow burn who steals the show, is mesmerising in a role that enables him to showcase his talent as a transformative actor, dancer, and musician.
Ana Isabel, as ‘Your Honour’ is funny and tragic in her descent from haughty to sad. She has many wicked moments and displays anger and resignation with aplomb. Prior to some torturing of the contestants, she mutters ‘There’s nothing like the smell of burning feet to excite an old lady and get her going’ and brings the house down.
While all the contestants embody their characters well, I was particularly moved by Marcus Hensley as ‘Oscar’. His spirited ‘business’, while we all wandered in, gave us a glimpse of his range – and we witnessed his complexity in Act Two where his monologue was poignant, visceral, and memorable.
Kerr and Mooney captured the essence of universal hosts; their shadow selves were played to perfection. Kerr carefully reveals a tricky personality juxtaposition; he demonstrates intricate, seamless acting. Actually, I’m sure you will be able to name several Game Show hosts that they seem to be channelling!
Romani was mysterious and restrained in his psychological evolution; this exquisite pacing gives his character verisimilitude and wins audience adoration.
The music, the sound effects, and the set worked beautifully. Each element was ideal, and the simple set captured the feel of reality TV perfectly. Wardrobe and makeup were well considered. The ‘Marilyn Monroe blonde wig’ as a take on a horsehair judge’s wig was inspired; as was the scene when Isabel tore it off. Flaming red hair with the white costumes for the hosts screamed dangerous excitement and childlike fun, while Pascal’s outfits went from morose to flamboyant in keeping with each iteration of his journey.
It is difficult to find some constructive feedback when an experience is so enjoyable, but if I had to say something I wonder if there is a way to shorten the running time without losing the comprehensive nature of the number of issues covered? The ‘warm up’ as the audience wandered in was necessary; you couldn’t cut that.
But it is a long night for our bottoms, and you need to actively listen to every word. It is good, dense writing – so we do need the intermission.
Perhaps a brutal edit to shave off half an hour of content may make it easier for some of the audience to retain everything, especially given the broad age range in the room. I imagine that some members of the audience might struggle a bit with retaining the richness of the material and integrating their reflection afterwards. A tough call, as the existing material is so interconnected. Potentially, there could be a shorter version option for a younger group – featuring three or four contestants, and streamlining the range of issues raised? Or a download sheet of dot points for audience members who wished to have a conversation or debate after the show? Or perhaps the head to heads could be tightened; for example, the live wires puzzle segment could be streamlined.
Overall, I had a great evening, and I take away many funny bits and serious bits. The music was terrific and I felt the finish worked well. Ending it without any bows was a good call. I want to see these actors and the creative team’s work again. The smart thing about being a writer, director, and producer of one’s own theatre company is that it is easier to retain an ensemble. I hope Gould-Dowen keeps going from strength to strength; he has a voice with important things to say, and he is certainly creating opportunities for many theatre people, both new and established.
Essentially, I was impressed by the relative youth of the writer, and I look forward to the next Impending Storm Production.
Season 5 to 8 May 2021
Venue Chapel off Chapel
Frank Kerr – Charlie
Mollie Mooney – Annabel
Ana Isabel – Your Honour
Chiara Caarmelita – Georgia
Marcus Hensley – Oscar
Grant Young – Jamie
Alyssa Scott – Clara
Shane Grubba – Pete
Luca Romani – Pascal
Patrick Gibson – Patrick the Security Guard