Monday, May 21, 2007

REVIEW: Room Service (Wynn's Hotel, Dublin)

Gob Squad’s latest explosion of the theatrical form is kind of live reality show without the editing. In keeping with that, the incentives for watching pretty much mirror those that prevail in Big Brother. You aren’t necessarily still here because you’re being entertained, or even because there’s a chance in a moment that you will be. Mostly you keep watching to avoid the feeling of missing something.

Room Service, which runs for five hours in total, does not actually expect its audience to see everything. There’s plenty of time and space for a little stroll out to the bar, or a sandwich. But the four performers from this Nottingham-Berlin collective are staying put, each locked away in their bedrooms above us in the hotel and connected to the function room where we sit by a video camera and a phone.

The two men and two women go through their agonies and their ecstasies alone, while we watch a bank of four monitors. Occasionally they reach out to us, via a phone call, to find somebody to play truth or dare, or, as the night goes on and everyone gets a little tired, truth or truth.

We, the audience, are invited to bare their souls, to talk about love, friendship and loneliness, to say how much they earn, and even, at one point, to come to a surprise party in one of the rooms, (a large portion of the audience accepted that invitation, and left their seats only to appear again, in a boisterous scrum, on one of the monitors).

But this was no ordinary audience. Perhaps the most striking thing about the show was how many off-duty performers and theatre folks had turned up, happy to get involved, delighted, it seems, to have found somewhere to shine and be visible, even on their night off.

Finally, the clock approaches twelve, as is decreed in the Good Book of reality TV, everything goes green as we switch to night vision and we quieten up to hear the last few stories, the last few confessions, the last few whispered lullabies.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Gob Squad's Room Service

There is something Gob Squad want to make clear from the start. Something that you may want to know given the company’s tendency to enlist audience members and passersby in the street in their improvisational videos and performances.

“We don’t force anybody to do anything,” says one of the company’s founding members, Sarah Thom. “It’s their choice and if they do it they are glad they do it. You can be entirely a voyeur. Or you can instigate.”

Instigating is a good word for what this Nottingham-Berlin collective have been doing since they formed in 1994, from the graduates of an interdisciplinary arts course at Nottingham-Trent University. Sometimes involving running amok through the streets filming a one-take improvised movie, sometimes building giant portraits from toast, the company’s work is best classed as unclassifiable.

“Our work has developed and changed a lot of the years. I wouldn’t have known when we started that we would be making something like Room Service. But one project has tended to generate another and here we are…”

And where Thom is is a bedroom Wynn’s hotel on Abbey Street, in which she will staying (a few walks around town notwithstanding) until the end of the Gob Squad’s show at midnight tonight. And a few hours after that too.

Room Service, which runs from 7pm tonight, sees various members of the company staying in rooms at Wynn’s, linked to the conference room (where the audience sits) by video cameras and the rooms’ bedside telephones.

“The telephone is our only means of communication with the other people. I have a camera, so I’m confronted with my own image, but that’s all,” says Thom “So it can be a very lonely experience, sitting there, on your own, for hours.”

As the night goes on, the performers attempt to make contact with the audience, invite them up to their rooms to perform in some cases, just bend their ear in others. During all of this, members of the audience are free to come and go, dip in to the action, or wander off to the bar for a little chat. Not your traditional night at the theatre, then?

“You know, I think people are not so concerned now with what is traditional theatre: they’re more and more just interested in what is good performance…It's not like 'Hey! Let’s use a video camera!’ and then work out what we are going to do with it. Because that would be just a gimmick…The idea is to let things develop in an organic way.”

Which, at the moment, sees Thom and company in a succession of hotel rooms all over the world. “Yes, I’ve become a bit of a connoisseur of hotel rooms…I particularly like hotels in England and Ireland, because you always get a kettle and some tea bags, so you can make a nice cup of tea. Which I always do.”

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