It’s a typical summer evening in central London: Commuters hurrying to the station, or relaxing over a drink after work; theatre-goers looking for entertainment as an antidote to the everyday routine. Only tonight, the show plays out in the open, against the setting sun, and the performers mingle with the crowds of passers-by.
The soundtrack for this performance is downloaded using an app devised by composers Max and Ben Ringham. Directions to the precise location are not disclosed until minutes beforehand, with a countdown adding to the suspense: “You have one minute to get to the location… fifty seconds… forty seconds…”
Listen carefully or you may lose the thread – or find yourself grasping at many threads, leading in different directions. Does this piece of experimental theatre directed by David Rosenberg rely just as much on the art of misdirection? It’s easy to get distracted by all the activity in this crowded public space – children laughing, girls dancing, couples posing for photos – things which look like they could be part of the performance, even when they are not. As Shakespeare put it: “All the world’s a stage”.
Characters, some played by actors and others imaginary, range from the mundane to the comical: a man in a baseball cap, a clown. A hint of dark humour emerges in a more sinister suggestion that a lone sniper is looking down from a rooftop.
There is a subversive element in which the participants are co-conspirators – instructed to act naturally so as not to draw attention to themselves. At one, time the narrative has the makings of a spy thriller, captured in a whispered conversation, a furtive exchange of briefcases. At another time, it aspires to be a Western. Instructions to leave the area and “follow the cowboy” give the narrative a renewed sense of purpose, and everyone sets off following a man and woman wearing cowboy hats.
The couple end up at a different location and take up a pose. A shot rings out in “high noon” style – but then the show ends abruptly, with the instruction: “Now take off your headphones”.
In a theatre, there would be applause to acknowledge the end of the performance, but here, people simply disperse, leaving behind a lingering sense of anti-climax. Live theatre generally involves an audience reacting in unison, laughing, gasping or applauding. Listening through headphone makes it all feel rather insular and self-contained, although some people may consider that to be part of its individual appeal.
If there is one thing to be shared through the experience, it is our love-hate relationship with London, a crowded city of contrasts, chaos, and the occasional spark of creativity.
Review by Angela Lord
MONUMENT performances run from now until 22nd August, starting half an hour before sunset. Tickets priced £11.50 may be purchased via the wiretapper app.
Saturday 18th July 2015