15 September 2015

Absent at Shoreditch Town Hall was a luscious experience

I stumbled upon dreamthinkspeak when I caught their amazing In The Beginning was The End at Somerset House in March 2013 and having found them I made sure that I kept in touch to find out about any further adventures. I had to wait a couple of years for them to come back to London and was quick to buy tickets when they did.

The performance was at Shoreditch Town Hall which gave me an opportunity to visit a part of London that I had not been to before. Despite passing through Hoxton Square there was nothing much to see on the way but I am always grateful for the opportunity of a decent 4km walk.

I had plenty of time to eat before my 7:30pm appointment and I found an Italian restaurant nearby that did the job.

I checked in at the event reception and went to the bar for a quick drink before our small group was called to start our journey. There were some newspapers in the waiting area and these were part of the show and they introduced us to the protagonist, a society woman who lived in the hotel.

We did not have much time to read the paper before we were ushered into the hotel which had been fashioned out of rooms in the basement of the Town Hall. dreamthinkspeak design their events for the spaces they are performed in and Absent made excellent use of the rough industrial spaces in the dark basement as well as, at the end, some of the grand function rooms on the ground floor.

The situation (story does not feel like the correct word) was of an elderly woman living in the hotel who was being asked to move rooms so that her old one could be refurbished inline with the rest of the hotel. This gave opportunities to look back at the grandeur of the past, and one night in the hotel in particular, and also to see the neglect and dereliction of the present day. There was more to it than that but that was the central theme.

The situation was explored through rooms and objects.

To pick one example (which reminded me of the flooded office in In The Beginning was The End) some of the rooms were laid out like any bland modern budget hotel, just think of the Travelodge adverts, and other rooms reflected this in models and pictures.

Two things made the Absent work brilliantly for me. The use of the space, and the lack of much lighting, gave it a mood of decay and abandonment that was exactly right for the situation/story, and there were countless little details, like a few pearls from a broken necklace in a fire grate or an empty bottle under the floorboards, that enriched the situation/story by adding little clues to what might have happened.

I also found it a positive that there was not too much stuff to discover in the rooms. I did like The Drowned Man but some of the spaces there had some much stuff in them that I could easily have spent the whole evening in the one place and still not investigated everything, and there were several large floors of such spaces. At Absent there were fewer things to find and so I could be fairly certain that I had discovered most of the important ones. I would not be presumptive and say that I found everything important despite spending a long time in each room, there was still a lot to look at.

It is hard to say what Absent was. There were no actors, unless I missed them too, so it was not a performance but there was a story so installation does not seem right either.  I've just called it theatre, which has a very broad scope, and I am sure that Absent belongs in there somewhere because of its dramatic nature.

To keep things simple, the important thing for me was just how thrilling the whole experience was, who has never wanted to walk through a wardrobe into another place?, and how well the concept was executed.

Absent was a fabulous experience and I would dearly love to go to more events like that, especially ones designed by dreamthinkspeak.

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