30 March 2013

In The Beginning was The End at Somerset House

I found out about In The Beginning was The End more or less by accident.

News did not come through one of my many theatre related emails that I get every week (or if it was, I did not notice, it came from the always entertaining and informative Robert Elms podcast of highlights from his BBC Radio London show.

Two things about the show piqued my considerable interest; it was a promenade performance and, despite wearing the badge of the National Theatre, was performed in the lower levels of Somerset House. That combination was simply too interesting too miss.

By then the show had been running for a little while and was proving to be extremely popular. Luckily it was so popular that it had been extended by a few weeks and I was able to get tickets for the very last evening. At 9:35pm.

The day took some planning, and that included another show in Hampstead, a walk through Regent's Park (where it snowed), a curry at the India Club and a coffee and cake at Fernandez and Wells in the courtyard of Somerset House.

We entered In The Beginning was The End in groups of ten after a short briefing that did little more than warn us that there was some nudity and the photography was strictly prohibited. I wish that I had ignored the later as a trawl of the internet has failed to reveal any of the images that I was hoping to find, such was the secrecy around the show.

The theme of the show was the technology firm Fusion International.

Some of their technology was real and simple fun, such as the lemon-powered lights and the toy that shot soft missiles at you when you walked past. The fictional technology included Petbot (a small Metal Mickey) and a device to calm you down and (Tension Negating Technology). These went wrong.

The other theme was corporate life and we encountered, among many other things, a boardroom that flooded while the people in it calmly put on breathing gear, and another that tilted and slid the participants out of view.

There was a great deal going on across a lot of different media that the show defies classification. I've called it "theatre" and there was theatre, i.e. real actors, in it but there was also film, photography, music and installations, such as the large and dangerous looking Petbot hidden in a dark room.

There was a sense of direction through the performances but not a prescribed route as such and I soon lost contact with the other in my group while other paths criss-crossed. The sense of not know where I was, or how far through the promenade I was, or even whether I had seen all of it (probably not) all added to the mystery and excitement. 

With such a rich mix of things on display the evening is remembered as a series of fragments, of which these were two of my favourites.

A customer service department is racked with pressure. One colleague takes his clothes off and leaves. The others then do the same. Reading their PC monitors we can see the letters of complaint that they are having to deal with. These are both fu
nny and sinister.

My favourite room was empty apart from a loudspeaker playing a Bach cello concerto on continuous loop while through the large windows we could see two men repeatedly slowly falling down past the windows. It was hypnotic and beautiful. I could have stayed in there for ages rather than the long while that I had time for.

In The Beginning was The End was a unique experience that stimulated in so many unexpected ways. An evening to treasure.

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