I never knew but the Barbican is built over a piece of land that was laid bare by the actions of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. In fact, so many bombs were dropped on the area, that nobody is sure if they have all gone off yet. Sitting under the wonderful piece of brutalist architecture could be a surprise, primed and ready to change the face of London once more. This then was the starting point for Split Britches Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) at the Barbican.
As this is a sort of immersive production and, by its very nature, every show is different, there is not much I can tell you about the show but let’s see how far I can go without giving away any spoilers. When you first enter The Pit, the scene in front of you will be very familiar – especially to fans of Stanley Kubrick movies. Basically, you will be entering into the war room from. A circle of white tables with lights over them and three large video screens above is the area where Split Britches perform. As with the film, there is The General (Peggy Shaw) a Trump-like character sitting outside of the circle and Madam President (Lois Weaver), a gentle calm person trying to cope with events around her. The rest of the ‘war room’ is populated by the Board of Elders, older members of the audience selected by the President. The Elders, along and the President – with some often unhelpful interjections by the General – take the opportunity to discuss the things that are most on their mind and try to use their untapped mental potential (the human UXO) to come to a solution that may just save humanity.
So, the basic premise for Split Britches Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) sounded really promising, and from a personal point of view, I thought the show started well. The set looked wonderful and, when combined with the video boards, seemed to be full of potential. Unfortunately, for me, overall it just didn’t work. This was a shame as it was obvious Peggy, Lois and Hannah Maxwell had put a lot of work into devising and writing the piece but, there was a lack of logic to the proceedings which I found rather distracting. It is possible that on the evening I saw the show, the Board of Elders were not particularly forthcoming, or possibly I am a little cynical. But with a couple of exceptions – that weren’t explored – I found the concerns of the Elders to not be that interesting and the interaction between the actors and the audience just didn’t feel right.
Having said that. there were elements I really liked. The centre screen is particularly interesting with its film showing some horrendous statistics around nuclear proliferation, and the ending was interesting if a little drawn out.
It’s is very difficult to sum up Split Britches Unexploded Ordnances (UXO). For me, whilst the concept was good, the delivery didn’t work. However, most of the audience around me seemed to enjoy the performance they were seeing and responded with laughter and applause in the right places. My advice would be to go along and see the show for yourselves, then use your own UXO to decide how you feel about it.
Review by Terry Eastham
Split Britches present an up-to-the-minute topical interactive show which takes unexploded ordnances as a metaphor for the unexplored potential in us all – particularly elders – and tries to uncover it. Legendary performance duo Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver evoke the Cold War paranoia of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove to seek solutions to the problems keeping us awake at night, as the audience counts down the final hour to doomsday on their phones.
On a stage that echoes the film’s iconic War Room, with a round table and doomsday images projected onto screens, Peggy and Lois adopt the characters of a bombastic general and ineffectual president, lacing the performance with both playful urgency and lethargy and encouraging discussion about the political landscape. The twelve eldest audience members are invited to enter the Situation Room and become a Council of Elders to discuss the global issues of the day from Trump, Brexit and Climate Change to the challenges of the ageing baby boom generation – as the company weave in satirical insights and spirit-lifting humour, resulting in a production where each show is unique.
@Split_Britches | #Unexplodedordnances | www.split-britches.com
Running Time: 1 hr 15 minutes | Suitable for ages 16+
Performed by Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw
Written by Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw and Hannah Maxwell
Created with Jo Palmer, Claire Nolan, Matt Delbridge, Alex Legge, Edythe Woolley, Meg Hodgson