'Shelf Life' review or 'Push harder!'

'Shelf Life', Half Cut in an old BBC building on Marylebone High Street
Friday, 19th October 2012
Written for The Ham & High

Ever wanted to be born again through a 6 foot vagina? What about going back to University, attending a wedding and eventually popping your clogs at an old people's home? On paper, Half Cut's immersive promenade production – set in an old BBC building in Marylebone - sounds enticingly bizarre. In reality, this vaguely conceived show fails to grab its audience by the throat.

After checking into hospital we wander around a labyrinth of velvety red walls, pulsing music throbbing in our ears. At the end of this red-brick road we're greeted by an enormous hole, through which giant red hands reach. We excitedly head towards the light.

But then we emerge onto the other side, only to be greeted by a fairly bland bar. The audience is encouraged to buy drinks and soak in the non-atmosphere. A nutty night becomes disappointingly normal. This stop and start set-up – a flash of invention followed by far too much down time – continues throughout.

The ratio of audience to actor is also not ideal. As we move from our birth to school and, later, university, there are only a few performers to draw us in. Most of my time at University was spent hovering on the edges of a grungy bedroom, watching a single actor down beers.

A few stand-alone scenes work well but only because they drop the guise of 'immersive' theater. Thom Mitchell makes for a superbly cynical teacher and his final year address is acidic and amusing. The wedding also heralds a number of entertaining speeches but – again – this is because the audience is left out of the equation.

Later on, when we're led into an old people's home, there's a mustiness and dankness that – for just a moment – captures the terrifying half-life that is old age. It's horribly convincing. But this lasts for only a few seconds, before we're led outside to release balloons and 'let go of our lives'. Had this been a more convincing show, this might've proved a moving conclusion. Here, it just feels very silly indeed.