1979 was a pivotal year in the life of British politics. Following what has become known as the Winter of Discontent, Margaret Thatcher tabled a vote of no confidence in the Labour government under Prime Minister James Callaghan. The government lost the vote, there was a general election which swept the Conservatives into power for the next 18 years. One has to wonder what would have happened if the government had won and the election put off for a while the Labour party and unions got together and sorted things out. Well, thanks to Parabolic Theatre, with their immersive production Crisis? What Crisis? At the Colab Factory, you now get the chance to play with and maybe even change history.
It is the night of the ‘No Confidence’ vote and you, along with other parliamentary advisers, have been invited to an old government control centre to discuss what can be done to avert a loss for the Prime Minister and the triggering of a general election that party strategists say may not be winnable. Along the way, you have to deal with a country on the brink of something. Civil unrest, wavering MPs of all parties, trades unions that are flexing their muscles for their workers whilst forgetting the traditional bonds with the Labour Party and a press that is sensing something sensational. Everything you do has consequences, giving in to one group could trigger a run on the pound, inflation or worse, and everything you do will have to be justified not only to the MPs voting tonight but to the great British public who will not forgive you if the country is dragged into civil war or a financial cataclysm.
As this is immersive theatre, there is not that much I can tell you about the production itself. Each ‘show’ is different depending on the participants and their approach to the many and various curve balls thrown out during the course of the two and a half hour run. What I can say is that writer Tom Black and Director Owen Kingston have pulled together an amazing production that, really takes the participants back to the frenzied last days of the Callaghan government. Considering the events portrayed are set forty years ago, there are so many parallels with the political situation today that this could easily be the backroom of No 10 with Dominic Cummings calling the shots.
However, we are concerned with the past and not the present and Crisis? What Crisis? transports its audience back in time in fantastic style. This starts from the moment you walk into the control room which really looks like something the government would have had in place in the 1970s. There’s an old TV showing a youthful looking Mrs T and various other political personalities from the time gearing up for the vote. The programmes look fresh and the team have not just done a small looped bit of film. In fact, I could have sat in front of the TV, or even more fun playing with Ceefax – a sort of early and very limited Google run by the BBC – looking at the clunky graphics all night long.
But we were not there to chat or watch TV and there was urgent work to be done. The team (Angus Woodward, Beth Jay, Chloe Mashiter, Christopher Styles, Jaya Baldwin, Owen Kingston, Tom Black and Zoe Flint) soon had us concentrating on, if not securing the political future, at least surviving the night. In a lot of immersive theatre, you start off in a role or team and have to stay there but in Crisis? What Crisis? You were able to move around to find what fitted you best. In my case, I had a short spell in the Treasury Team before moving to the political where, I ended up doing deals (some might say offering bribes but I couldn’t possibly comment) directly with MPs and I have to say that some of the chicanery being done by our team would have been worthy of Francis Urquhart – from the original “House of Cards” – at this best.
Ultimately Crisis? What Crisis? really is immersive theatre at its absolute finest. From the moment you open the control room door, you are transported back to a dreary night in 1979 when the survival of the government sits squarely on you and your colleagues’ shoulders.
The cast keeps everyone on their toes and the pressure is intense with no let up until the final moment when the vote from the House of Commons is announced and you either breathe a sigh of relief or prepare for an election and potentially years in the political wilderness. Incidentally, on my visit, we won the vote, but who knows what may happen next time.
I’ve done quite a bit of immersive theatre in my time, but I have to say that Crisis? What Crisis? is now the yardstick against which any future shows will be measured.
Review by Terry Eastham
Taking audiences back to 1979 when Britain was on the brink of political collapse for the second time in a decade, Parabolic Theatre’s thrilling live-action board game Crisis? What Crisis? comes to The Colab Factory this autumn. The innovative immersive theatre company cracks open the government machine to give participants the chance to get hands-on with the levers of power.
Crisis? What Crisis? puts audiences firmly in the driving seat and the mechanics of the production mean that the participants’ decision alters every show so no two are the same; the ending changes with each choice they make. This truly interactive experience tasks participants with managing the escalating political crisis and steering the country to stability while fears of riot, strikes and economic meltdown spiral.
Exploring the parallels between the Winter of Discontent and the current surge of uncertainty rippling through our own divided and turbulent times, the production immerses its audience in a time of heightened political and civil unrest. With a direct line to politicians and journalists, foreign dignitaries and the armed forces, all manned by Parabolic’s expert improvisers, the audience can take action in any way they see fit. As government special advisers, they must negotiate with union leaders, wrangle rogue MPs and handle an increasingly obstructive media, while keeping the economy under control as MPs face a vote of no confidence.
Director Owen Kingston
Writer Tom Black
Cast Tom Black, Beth Jay, Zoe Flint, Angus Woodward, Jaya Baldwin, Christopher Styles, Chloe Mashiter
Twitter @ColabF @_Parabolic_ #CrisisWhatCrisis
Crisis? What Crisis?
Tuesday 12th November – Sunday 8th December 2019, 7:30pm
Running Time 2 hours 30 minutes
The Colab Factory, 74 – 84 Long Lane, London, SE1 4AU