Review – SPACED 2014 – a Theatre Delicatessen Souk Festival

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A tweet caught my eye about Theatre Delicatessen’s small theater festival – not quite a one on one fest, but something like it, with the intriguing but critical difference that you needed to negotiate with the bazaar of performers offering shows/experiences whathaveyou for the amount you wanted to pay for each thing you did. I didn’t recognize any of the names of people they said were going to be performing (and there were no other details provided of what was happening), but I love intimate theater and I was intrigued by the bargaining element, so I loaded up a bag with liquor, sweets, and carb filled treated and arrived at the Theater Delicatessen space at Marlyebone High Street promptly at seven, when, according to the website, the “marketplace would open.”

Well. Cue the organization disaster that marked the entire evening as soon as I showed up, where some thirty people were waiting to get into the “marketplace” and not moving very fast. By the time I got in I knew a substantial amount of the life history of the woman standing behind me and had also managed to miss almost 30 minutes of performances. I finally got a “program” when I got to the front of the queue – a list of the performers with teeny bios and two liners about what their shows were going to be. I hurridly tucked it into my pocket and rushed inside, where a video display of all of the shows and the times they were taking place (but not how long they took) was hung prominently over an stairwell. I tried to figure out which space was where (and even where upstairs and downstairs were) when suddenly some ladies came up to me. “Do you like cake?” they asked. And, since I do, I followed them into The Cake Shop, where, I was promised, the event would end with me being given a custom cake designed exactly to my tastes.

Now, let’s be clear, Plunge Theatre’s Cake Shop pandered to my baser interests, by which I mean, generally, my sweet tooth, and, specifically, my love of cake. I was indeed given a sweet taste consultation by a snappily dressed young woman who extolled the creaminess of the sponge cake and the delightful texture of the homemade marshmallows on our private multi-layered cake stand and carefully probed my responses to the different sweet things on offer. Oddly, bits of the walls behind the counter began to pop out while we talked until finally some body-stocking dressed women emerged to observe us while we ate our sweets. Toward the end, I was handed a perfect cupcake with some pink icing on it, then lined up (with the other participants) amongst the stocking women – I think the point was that body consciousness makes people not enjoy wonderful things like cake. I, however, am immune to sweet or fat shaming, given that I spent about six months last year being very upset because I was so ill I kept losing weight and had no enjoyment whatsoever for pretty much any kind of food. My weight has stabilized, I enjoy treats again, so hurray! Bring it! And my cupcake was just delightful. At the end we were invited to drop some pounds, either on the scale or in the piggybank, and rather than bothering to haggle, I put something in the pig that I thought would help offset the cost of all of the wonderful home-made goodies I’d been treated to. It was a great start to the evening.

I took a few steps away and was met by a woman in a set up reminiscent of a fortune teller. She offered to quiz me and help me determine the correct version of a peep show to see that would be exactly suited to my tastes and comfort levels. I did finally get to haggle here, trading a promise of a positive review if it were good – and nothing if it were bad – in exchange for a discount at the actual coin-operated booth. Flipping the Bird’s Peepshow seemed to have a pretty big overal arc and also provided (I think) eight different possible options once inside the booth – mine being “The Full Meal Deal” or something along those lines.

I took my tokens and went in the booth, where a young, attractive woman told me a tale (requiring coin prompts) about her attraction to an older man and her pleasure at going to his house and having hot sex with him (described quite graphically) knowing she was in the bed he shared with his wife. I remembered, from the perspective of age, how stupid the kinds of decisions are that you make when sex is boiling your brain. I shared my take on this with her, because part of the actual peep show experience is talking to the performner, and, to be honest, guiding them in what they do in the box – while part of their schtick is to try to get you interested enough to keep popping lots of tokens into the slot (there is no end of a “story” for them!) I think this might have put her off a bit, but I was also finding the story depressing – actually, finding out your husband has been cheating on you really makes any story told from “the other woman’s” point of view very much a downer, no matter how excited that person might be about what they’re getting away with.

After this piece ended, the evening began to drag. I spent about an hour unable to see a single show, as either they were in progress, they were already full, or when I waited to get in, I somehow managed to not stand where they were gathering audience members together (causing me to miss Duvet Day, which looked really fun, and Class of ’14). This happened to me twice, and when it began to seem like I was going to spend my whole night chasing experiences that I didn’t even know had “waitlists” (or whatever) to get into, and which started late, it all began to seem like my least favorite Punchdrunk nights, where I spent hour after hour chasing something that had just happened. Pretty quickly things were actually NOT happening anymore, and I just started to see if I could get into anything. I managed to see One Man’s Trash, which I found shrill and irritating (but at least gave me the opportunity to use my goodies to bid on stuff), then sat down with a bottle of water to figure out if it was time to leave.

By good chance I managed to make my way into the last performance of Class of 2014, which, thanks to my airplane bottle of scotch, managed to have me flagged teacher’s pet, giving me the privilege of sitting on a stool and blowing bubbles at the rest of the class. This was a fun, interactive experience, where we, the audience, were talking to each other just as much as Miss was talking to us in our roles as naughty students in detention. Afterwards Miss (Eleanor Massie) and I sat around and worked through my spare alcohol, as class was dismissed and we both needed a chill out. She talked to me about the difficulties of being on for a performance where the audience is interacting with you, and I enjoyed a chance to hear about the creative process and relax, as I’d given up on seeing anything else.

Overall, this show made me long for the organization behind the one to one festival, where, for a fixed price, you got to see a set number of shows that you knew you were goign to get into as well as have the opportunity of seeing other shows that were more spontaneous. The bidding thing of the Souk just wasn’t really happening for me – I gave away my chocolate bars and a banana to the members of a circus troupe who seemed really grateful to have some carbs and sugar – and the flabbiness of the timelines, lack of clarity about how to get into a show, and shortage of visibility before the event about what actually was happening meant that I couldn’t plan beforehand and that there were way too many variables influencing whether or not I got to do much of anything, nevermind anything of quality, once I got on site. I found the evening very frustrating and, while I wound up spending very little in the end, I can’t really recommend it as a good night out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on March 18th, 2014. It continues through March 22nd. Don’t worry about them saying it’s a marketplace, there’s nothing else for sale besides drinks.)

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