Our first Cog Night of 2013 was spent in a freezing-cold unit on an industrial estate in South London. We were there for Shunt’s latest offering, The Architects.
An anonymous warehouse on a trading estate in Bermondsey promises a large-scale adventure. Through the doors we were immediately into a maze of hardboard-constructed, barely furnished rooms. Some rooms mirrored each other, screens displayed CCTV of fellow travellers, the model of a cruise ship sat as the only ornament, a phone rang in a dead-end corridor. I’m not sure I found it disconcerting, it felt more like I was in an empty queue at an abandoned theme park.The reveal was great though. Through the final room was a full-scale, art-deco lounge-bar on a cruise-liner. We took our seats around a pedestal table, the illusion spoilt somewhat by our coats, scarves and hats; it was freezing in there.
I won’t spoil the plot (I’m not entirely sure I understood enough to retell it anyway). The main theatrical conceit was that we were all passengers on the cruise of a lifetime. Our pursers and entertainment team were Danish architects who bore a striking resemblance to the four slobbish drunks who spoke to us via video link and had commissioned the ship.
There were some nice theatrical touches; the audience was plunged into darkness for quick scene cuts to indicate passing time. There were laughs; poo jokes, sex with dolphin jokes, this boat is so huge it’s got too ice-rinks jokes. There was a little audience interaction; we were all greeted and kissed individually; I got a name check in the plot (like a mail-merged letter from Santa).
Like the maze we’d entered through, the plot had an awful lot of loose threads, dead-ends and false beginnings.
There were many half promises of menace but they just never built into any kind of terror. There were chances to tie themes together but they were no more than mirages. There were moments of greatness but there was no pace or direction.
The show’s end was desperately disappointing and the audience was left to literally drift away, unsure what was going on.
I really wanted to like this show. I was willing it to be great. But it wasn’t. It’s not good enough to have loads of interesting ideas and a few knob gags; you need a producer, writer and director to pull it together into a plot.
Or maybe that’s not the point. Maybe this was an intellectual tour-de-force where the theatrical structure mirrored the architectural form of the maze. Maybe I’m just not clever enough to appreciate the Shunt.