By Max Edwards –
In a word? Batshit mental. Ok, thatâ€™s two words, but you get the gist. Dreamthinkspeakâ€™s newest project In the Beginning was the End, a site specific work of interactive theatre just next door to the Strand Campus at Somerset, is exactly that. Mental.
However, thatâ€™s not a bad thing. It also might just be the coolest thing Iâ€™ve seen this year. Situated in tunnels shared by Kingâ€™s and Somerset House, it is at once disorientating and strangely familiar, an intensely individual experience and something of a communal one. In the Beginning… is a â€˜promenadeâ€™ piece: the viewer is free to wander corridors and abandoned science labs, both interacting with elements and watching actors, who equally freely interact with the audience. In small groups, people set off at specific times, and there are no limits.
You are as free to leaf through a book on 1980s computing as you are to watch a German scientist write quadratic equations backwards on a room covered in blackboard. The start is truly weird. However, as the viewer progresses deeper into the maze-like tunnels, a sense of purpose starts to emerge. From dimly lit, eerie research labs, you progress to the brightly lit corridors of fictional technology company Fusion, ostensibly on an open day. A series of mishaps occur, and domestic appliances go horribly, horribly wrong, often in hilarious ways.
It has the effect, Iâ€™d argue, of performance art meeting theatre. There are dioramas and videos that are external to live-action theatre that audiences are used to, and the main acting that does occur is circular, one 15 minute performance repeated, I assume, throughout the night. In the Beginningâ€™s unique selling point is its careful blend of dystopian future storyline and careful use of the site it is situated in, something that artistic director T can have every reason to be proud of. The tunnels create an astonishing illusion of how one imagines a slightly manic scientific organisation would run, and how theyâ€™d be located. Further, the promenade nature of the performance allows for constant clever foreshadowing, playful images repeated in various guises and the story to progress despite the lack of any real intelligible dialogue for the whole 80 minutes I was in the performance space.
The overall effect, then, is a profound mistrust of the self. I found myself constantly questioning whether Iâ€™d gotten the gist of something, whether Iâ€™d been everywhere, seen everything. With no guidance (all the actors speak in foreign languages â€“ from German to Spanish to French) and no set rules, I felt curiosly detached, yet at the same time bound communally with my fellow audience members. The looks of bafflement on their faces echoed mine, and at one stage I found myself discussing recursion and Da Vinciâ€™s invention of the aqualung with a Banker from Glasgow…
That pretty much sums up the performance to me. Itâ€™s a universal. There are bits that will make you crack up and there are bits that will make. All of it, however, will make you and everyone else in your timeslot go â€˜Wowâ€™. Yes, it has its faults, and yes, at times it takes its baffling nature a couple of steps too far, but In the Beginning… is an excellent, and above all thought provoking, show.