Review – The Tempest in Six Parts – RETZproduces at Borduria (297 Hoxton Street)

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Sometime in January a curious tweet passed by in my feed: “Become a citizen of Borduria now, get access to 6 installations of ‘The Tempest’ in a pop-up Shoreditch art space.” The message was vague: I couldn’t tell exactly what I was being promised (paintings? movies? spoken word with jazz hands accompaniment?), but something about it attracted me like a phone number on a bathroom wall (or a message in a bottle): give a little money and you can Make Magic Happen. I could smell the sizzle of promise and imagination: I’ll become a citizen? And I’ll come back several times? What the heck, I thought, I’ll sign up for this “O Brave New World” and hope for the best.

Initially things went badly: my passport didn’t turn up after more than a week, and while I could see from the Twitter feed that things were happening, I couldn’t tell what. A chorus? Wrackeroni? Frequently the links were for YouTube videos or stuff on Facebook, both of which were blocked at work: then on the blog there were stories (the Bordurian women’s choir? People napping?) that made me unsure if I was going to a small concert hall or just a coffee shop. The passport I bought said I got “free access during the day,” but to what? And what was going on in the evening, exactly? Pressure mounted as the Twitter feed started talking about the end of the first installation, so I stopped faffing around, went onto the Bordurian Citizens website, and just signed up for a time to go. (Well, actually, I wasn’t able to get the website to work right and sent a Tweet saying I wanted to go, and the nice person who helped me sort out my missing passport took care of it or me.)

Come a Sunday and there I was, disembarking in front of St Leonard’s hospital with a Turkish pizza in my hand, trying to figure out which end of Hoxton was the right one given that (once again) none of the buildings had numbers on them. I got lucky and turned the right way (hoping the “top” of Hoxton was the part near the canal), and there was a man in a green overcoat and a military-style hat. He greeted me, I showed him my passport, and I was welcomed to Borduria, which apparently accessed via the rear entrance of a scaffolding-covered building (be careful stepping over the ladder).

Inside my passport was checked and stamped (“Welcome back, citizen!”) and I was ushered into … a small room that seemed like a combination bar slash coffeeshop. There was a bar with a person behind it making drinks (and a crock pot of some sort full of stew); a table football game; some stuff playing on TVs; and about twenty other people sitting around in chairs or on couches talking to each other and … waiting. (“What’s going to happen?” I asked one of the girls sat near me. “I don’t know!” she answered. Fair enough.)

So what DIDN’T happen is that we didn’t get up and move around the building to different places where different things were happening – we stayed put the whole time. So it wasn’t a promenade. And, well, even though a new “environment” was created inside the building, I wouldn’t really call it an installation piece or performance art. What it was, eventually, was a performance of once section of the Tempest – an early part of the play (somewhat cobbled together, I think, though with a lot of Act II scene II) with Caliban, Ariel, Trinculo, and (I think) Stephano, the last two (human) characters recently arrived on the island during a storm. Ariel is done as a computer program – A.R.I.E.L. – who speaks through the computer monitors on the walls (I think it was just text displaying but my memory has added a voice as well).

The three non-digital characters interact a bit with the audience at one point, drinking and playing games with us (I beat Trinculo at thumb wrestling) but mostly only have eyes for each other – though Caliban does have a go at the bar. It’s all very intimate and in your face in this very small space, making the sweat and smell of the actors very vibrant. While I was a bit disappointed that we weren’t actually walking around a recreation of a shipwreck and instead watching a fairly straight piece of theater, it was a cool experience. I also liked the integration of the digital character, and (as I saw later) all of the work the team had gone to created a full-cycle experience with the videos/tweets/graphics that surrounded the performance, making it more of a … well, four dimensional show, or five, perhaps – it was a show that had not just a place and time of performance, but a world and a lot of imagination. I’m a citizen of Borduria now. I live on a strange island with talking computers (and free WiFi) and hypnotizable, “clustering filberts” drinking monsters; and come next week I am going back to see something else entirely, and I’ll go four more times over the next 5 months to see “my homeland” in its entirety.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, February 19th, 2012. “O Brave New World” continues with its A.R.I.E.L. installment from Friday, March 2nd, 2012. For further updates, please see the RETZproduces twitter feed or the Facebook page – to be honest I find the whole thing hard to keep up with and am grateful I received a flyer letting me know that Friday was the date of the new show. I still have a lot of questions about what is going on with this show and apologize if I’ve been unable to answer yours.)

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