'The Architects' review or 'Can anyone see a way out?'

'The Architects', Shunt (a work in progress)
The Biscuit Factory, Thursday 6th December 2012


I'd go for the opening alone. Left to wander around a fairly innocuous looking maze, constructed from planks of plywood, the audience is initially rather bold. We stalk through the corridors, hunting for clues in an eerie environment that feels familiar to any Shunt fan. There's little to go on except a vague feeling of unease; a chair sits upside down on a ceiling, a mildly crazed man scurries amongst us and cold music massages us threateningly.

But then we turn another corner and come across the foyer. Again. Giddily confused, we surge ahead. The space continues to fold in on us, until certain savvy folks place their hands on the left wall, looking for consistency. It doesn't help because this is a maze you cannot beat. CCTV cameras flicker with images of friends who, for all your cool retracing of steps, you cannot find.

It's a superbly disorientating opening, which makes you seriously question your senses and your sanity. It's a bit like being chucked down Alice's rabbit hole, whilst coming down from an almighty trip. This unease is only disrupted upon stumbling into a massive bar, which resembles a deck on a massive cruise ship. Finally cocooned in a safe space, we mingle here for some time. And then some.

I understand the need to earn back the budget but why at such a crucial point in the show? Force us into the bar at the start or the end of the show - but now now. To break the spell at such a clawing moment is to play a dangerous game. It means that, come the next segment of the show, we're not in the slightest bit disorientated. In fact, we're a little bit bored.

The middle section, in which we're introduced to our crew and the owners of this gigantic cruise ship, takes a while to take hold. I suspect it would've grabbed the audience sooner, were we still bristling from that earlier sliding, squeezing encounter. The ship's crew – a slightly timid and cerebral Danish family – welcome us to our 'trip of a lifetime'. A sprawling speech about architecture follows, of which the main thrust seems to be: Build Better. One particular phrase lodges in the mind: Architects must believe in the future.

And then, with snapping lights and snatched announcements, we're propelled through our cruise. The public announcements are frequently interrupted by video feeds from our grotesque funders, played by the same actors now on board with us. These funders resemble a bunch of fading WAGS and a seedy strip club owner. They are forever eating and drinking. They are a little bit racist. They're the living embodiment of an empty, consumerist culture.

The interchange between these two obliquely mirrored families shimmers oddly. It's hard to tell if they're two distinct entities or two sides of one creature; the man and the monster split in two. This show is supposedly, oh so teasingly, inspired by the Minotaur myth. We've crawled through the labyrinth and now we've found the Minotaur inside.

The double-edged family is reflected in the ascending chaos on the ship. Promised a trip of a lifetime, it seems that we – the passengers – are doing everything in our power to screw it up. We're fucking, shitting and fighting. We're destroying when we should have been building. The crew's children flit amongst us and their presence is unsettling. They refuse not to see what is happening. 
 
Precious little actually happens in this section – it's all interrupted reportage. Although it's intriguing to hear the crew's increasingly perplexed announcements, it all feels very cool compared to that heated introduction. It would've been nice to feel the frenzy.

And then our time is up. The men and and women are herded off separately and dumped in a dark space, left to our own devices. We don't do very well. We scream and shout and look on. The crew's children reappear in a massive open space and attempt to escape by clambering up a rope. The ropes keep sliding away and their struggles whisper of a precarious future.

Finally, we get the briefest glimpse of the Minotaur – a slightly too oblique presence in this production. He is beaten and, in his place, the gruesome owners of our ship re-appear in all their empty glory. Besides them is a huge cow, reminiscent of Hirst's defining moment. The family preens in the spotlight. They are safe for now – but are they the monster we should be fighting?

Comments

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