The Architects

3:08 pm in Featured, Review by EVNT

Say what you like about Shunt but the environments they create have never been anything short of spectacular. Think back to their club night: a warren of vaulting arches teeming with performance pieces and installations, the disparate elements of the evening merging into one gloriously disjointed and hedonistic set-piece. 2010’s Money was played out in the bowels of an enormous, metal machine; three stories high and in the middle of a disused tobacco factory, its sheer magnitude and impressiveness papered over the cracks of a slightly muddled story.

Fast-forward two years and they’ve returned with a new, National Theatre-backed project, in an equally impressive setting. Housed within the V22 biscuit factory in Bermondsey, much is hinted at but little given away in the synopsis; a re-imagining of The Labyrinth is about as much as we have to go on before entering the space.

The opening signs were positive- upon entry we found ourselves in a maze of eerie, identikit rooms full of creepy family portraits, unanswerable telephones, CCTV monitors and dead ends. Having stumbled around its corridors for some time, we were slightly relieved to discover we had a destination- a cavernous area decked out like the ballroom of a ship. Flanked by portholes and serenaded by a three-piece band and the sound of crashing waves, it was a beautifully realised and impressive start to the show.

The performance itself, however, offered little to match its surroundings as we lurched between three settings that offered substance in isolation but utter bafflement when viewed as a whole. The bulk of the action was played out in the ballroom, the setting for our ‘cruise of a lifetime’, as we were treated to a series of increasingly ominous vignettes by the four cast members about life on board the ship. We were watched on a video screen by what I assumed to be The Architects- four hideously decadent characters that perhaps represented those responsible for the global economic crisis; after a series of disasters we were forced to evacuate the ship and their hand in its demise as well as their apparent ambivalence to our plight was all too clear.

This was just one of many attempts to shoehorn ill-explained and disparate themes into the narrative- an initial lecture on architectural aesthetics was particularly incongruous, as were the intermittent allusions to Greek mythology- and what started as a coherent, immersive experience became a muddled heap of inarticulate set pieces.

As with all things Shunt, The Architects is not short on ideas or imagination, the main setting was impressive and the ambition and verve with which the performance was delivered was excellent. As with Money, however, the visual aspects of the performance barely masked a blurred and ill-conceived narrative that owed its surroundings a lot more.

Simon Trevethick