In A Nutshell
A wildly experimental event that will push you senses, your courage, and your perceptions of theatre.
Renowned (and arguably infamous) “event” company, Shunt, take up a six week residency at new south London arts venture, The Jetty. This new show promises a wild multi-sensory 45 minute experience inside shipping containers, drawing influences from both Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies and Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness.
With so much secrecy about the actual content of the containers (which I’ve been asked to keep) it’s difficult to say much about what happens inside them. However, if you think it near impossible to combine The Water Babies and The Heart of Darkness together, on account that these couldn’t be any more polemic to each other, you won’t be surprised to find that they don’t. Whilst there is a definite sequence of events inside the containers, if you go expecting a narrative in the traditional sense, you’ll only be left baffled and confused. However, if you go open to an experience, then you’ll get a lot more out of it than you would otherwise.
You genuinely have no idea about what is going to happen next as everything is supremely surreal and nonsensical. There are moments that are literally in your face, disorientating, or just downright creepy. These are made even more unnerving as there are moments where continuing on with the experience means that you, and your fellow audience members, must swallow your fears and press on to the next area; you may be singled out as an individual, or simply left to your own devices as a group in this strange and surreal landscape, with moving forwards being your only option. Given just how bizarre and unsettling the events are, this is sometimes easier said than done.
The only major criticism is that the show is too short. 45 minutes fly by, and just when you’ve found you’ve steeled your courage enough to carry on deeper into Shunt’s twisted world, you find you’re at the end twitching for more. Furthermore, the climax is so subdued, although beautifully staged, that it feels like a big let down given everything that has been building up towards it. But at a humble £10, you definitely get your money’s worth, even if you’d like to stay longer or wanted a bit more from the event’s apex.
The Boy Who Climbed Out Of His Face: Official Trailer
With Shunt’s emphasis on senses and how their theatre can make you feel, it’s no surprise that the quality of production and attention to aesthetics is superlative. Everything from lighting, set, costume, and even optical illusions, all work in tight cooperation with every other component and is as essential as the last. It all works perfectly in unison to create a netherworld of madness that makes Alice’s trip through the looking glass seem like a stroll around Ikea.
Visually there are more than a couple of incredibly arresting visuals that become images that will really stick with you. This is set design at it’s most ambitious but also most artistic, with some scenes that are as high-quality and striking of those in large scale operas. There’s some particularly good use of lighting, sound, and video throughout, demonstrating that Shunt aren’t scared of experimenting with different mediums to create a truly unique world.
Most interesting is bringing the sense of touch to the fray. By asking all audience members to remove their shoes and their socks, what you feel with your feet is just as quintessential. But this is also a very clever experiment on forcing an audience out of their comfort zone by heightening how they perceive the world around them, and making them do something that you wouldn’t do anywhere else.
Whilst difficult to say much without giving much away, Shunt has an indefatigable cast that are as intense as the production itself. They make an effort to thrill and disturb as excellently as the rest of the show. But you also get the feeling that they’re willing to push themselves as performers in their roles as much as the production pushes the audience, making them as integral and as striking as any other part of this experiment.
If you want something unique and off-the-wall, then you’ll love this. If you want something more traditional, then you’ll probably loathe it. Go with an open mind (and possibly some Dutch courage) and experience one of the most exciting and different pieces of theatre that London has to offer. Short, contained, and intense, this is the sideshow reinvented for the 21st Century and Generation WTF. Terrifying and intoxicating, this is the stuff of both dreams and nightmares.
The Boy Who Climbed Out Of His Face will run at The Jetty, London, SE10 0FL, from 14 August – 28 September 2014. Tickets are £10. To book, visit www.barbican.org.uk. For more information about Shunt and the production, visit www.shunt.co.uk.