“There’s nothing to fear but fear itself,” said Franklin D. Roosevelt famously in 1933, or is there? As its neologistic title suggests, Phobiarama’s political funfair house of horrors explores the basis for contemporary fears and prejudice by placing audience members on a frightening dodgem ride past looming costumed bears, insidious clowns, and more besides.
Already a complete sell-out as part of the 2018 LIFT Festival, Phobiarama is Dutch theatre maker Dries Verhoeven’s Kings Cross installation of “today’s angst-fuelling media landscape,” utilising flickering television monitors, cacophonous static screams of terror, and looped sound to confront audiences with 21st century anxieties over issues such as Brexit, the migrant crisis, and racism. By setting these concerns alongside our more instinctive and irrational fear of traditional bogey monsters, Verhoeven forces us to question where our feelings on these matters come from, and whether or not they are also just the product of blind trepidation and scaremongering.
Phobiarama was first performed in Holland and the loudspeaker soundbites have been altered for a British audience to include, most prominently, Theresa May’s speeches in response to London terror attacks of recent years. But Verhoeven’s precise intention behind this change, and his selection of other notable political gobbets, is unclear. Phobiarama is, therefore, an experience which presents more problems than it solves.
Without a doubt, its unique immersive theatricality and stylised means of delivery is arresting, but its attempts at nebulous profoundness become a little abstruse and repetitive after 40 minutes. There are only so many times that you can be surprised when a costumed actor jumps out from the shadows and stares at you earnestly, without saying anything. And audience members might find themselves a little like Macbeth as his castle is under siege at the end of Shakespeare’s play: “I had almost forgot the taste of fears.”
Phobiarama, then, is more fun and less serious than perhaps it intends to be. It’s a provocative oddball of a theatrical experience that provides fear and amusement in equal measure.
Review by Ben Miller
Dutch theatre maker and visual artist Dries Verhoeven invites you to step on board his political ghost train in this immersive excursion into our contemporary culture of fear, bringing you face to face with the ever-increasing threats and paranoia engulfing a society obsessed with safety and perfection.
Audience members will be taken through a tour of today’s angst-fuelling media landscape that’s so flawlessly exploited by politicians, terrorists, marketers and fake news. This 21st century theatrical haunted house comes to London for the first time following sell-out performances at festivals across Europe.
Described by the Observer as a ‘visionary athlete who has taken an extraordinary imaginative leap’, Dries Verhoeven is a world-renowned artist who makes installations and performances highlighting the socio-political reality we live in. His work Life Streaming was presented at LIFT 2010.
Phobiarama is at LIFT until 18 June www.liftfestival.com and at Milton Keynes International Festival from 20th to 29th July www.ifmiltonkeynes.org
FRI 8 – MON 18 JUNE (TIMES VARY)