'Adventure 1' review or 'Where's the goddam rule-book?'

Adventure 1, William Drew and Tassos Stevens
Coney and Glitchspring

I’m in the heart of London and I am lost. A mystery chap keeps texting me with a flurry of commands and I am struggling to keep up. I can’t figure out how to access music on my mobile phone. I feel out of touch and off the pace. I bump into my sister (I really do!) but there is no time to stop and chat: ‘I’m in the middle of an interactive show and I’m running out of time!’ I’m taking part in Coney’s interactive show, ‘Adventure’, written by William Drew and Tassos Stevens. I have bugger all idea what the main objective is but I really, really want to win.

Coney shows (this one is directed by Stevens) always hit you in two waves. The first wave hits whilst you are physically taking part in the show. You are pulled into a whirl of activity and, following an initial period of total confusion, you lock into the system. You begin to play by the rules and follow the commands and the real world that you occupied only moments before, gradually melts away. The second wave hits after the show and ceaseless activity has subsided. You sit alone, or perhaps with members of the company and ask yourself, slightly breathlessly: What the hell have I just done?

The framework for Adventure is one of Coney’s tightest one’s yet. There is so much to do – maps to read, surveillance to undertakes, phone calls and texts to answer and music to download – that there is very little time to think. This is very much the point. The game unfolds in a public space, which places extra demands on the audience members. We have to do our very best to blend in with the public.  After all, there’s not much point in playing this covert game if everyone is in on the act.

The subtle genius of this show is that the nature of the framing device – and the way our positioning within that framework is meant to make us think – only really becomes clear after the show. This is a piece about the financial system and the people who work within it. It is a piece designed to get us thinking about our own role within that system and the way we might rattle the cage, should we feel so compelled. It is about how much we might be able to work independently from this system and the way that the system infringes on all our lives, insidiously, ingeniously and relentlessly. The whole show is bundled up within a system, with leaders and rules, which the audience – more often than not – follows unquestioningly throughout. It is only after the show that we realise, with a start, that we have not been playing this game; the game has been playing us.

A lot of ‘Adventure’ is spent tracking a chap who works within the financial system. We are following him but we are also trying to get to know him. Is this a man we could like and perhaps even trust? We rarely see this mystery man, Mr X, but we do get to know him via the places we visit, the music we listen to, the messages we hear on our mobile phones. In one particularly effective scene, I sit in a place of worship and imagine Mr X sitting there too. Frankly, I’m relieved not to be running around anymore. But what is very interesting is how reluctant I feel to enter this religious domain. I have spent the whole afternoon breaking rules but this space – which represents a religion I do not believe in – is one line I am unwilling to cross. There are always a few precious, fascinating moments in a Coney show when you come across your own limits and learn something quiet and hidden – but pretty damn essential - about yourself.

As we get to know Mr X the question starts to wriggle to the surface: does this distant and hostile-seeming financial system seem a little more approachable and meaningful when we grow connected to someone inside it? Is this world of algorithms and high frequency trading a world we might get to know, understand and possibly even relate to?  

My technological ineptitude means that I only got to know a little about Mr X. There were many songs and little visits that I was unable to take part in, merely down to my own incompetence (and the fact that I really, really needed the toilet). I do think there might be slightly better ways to make that human connection with someone inside the system. Music and snatched bits of surveillance only get us so far. What about some shared time and space with this man? What about some letters or confessions or clipped speeches that dig a little deeper into his soul? The problem with keeping such a distance from Mr X is that, well, we never really get that close to him.

As the game draws to a close the other players gather together and are presented with a moral conundrum. The only trouble is that very few people within my group even recognise that a conundrum has come up. Pretty much everyone is desperate to carry on following directions and the idea of stepping outside the game and questioning its rules is pretty much ignored. That is frustrating and, whilst it says a lot about the people in my group, I also think it says a little about the direction this show needs to take in the future. All of this shadowing hasn’t quite taken my fellow game-players close enough to the heart of the system they are infiltrating. They are really only hovering on the edges and, as a result, are quite happy to smash the whole thing up (or follow it unthinkingly, depending on how you look at it). Perhaps if we had been drawn in a little closer, our hearts as well as our minds engaged, there might have been a little more hesitation in those closing moments and the rule book – maybe, just maybe – might have been torn up and written anew.


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