What a bizarre piece this was. Sold as an ‘intriguing theatrical game’ but closer to a slightly awkward secondary school class outing, Foreign Radical attempts to question audience sympathies and opinion regarding cyber-surveillance. Well, this is what it says on the packet. In actual fact it was a bizarrely puzzling 70 minutes being led around badly curtained rooms by a shinily exuberant host, standing in different corners of the space depending on whether we’d spied on someone’s emails or not. The actual kern of the piece – whether or not to increase surveillance on a young man with potential terrorist connection – was utterly lost within the confusion created when 30 people tried to stand in a line in a 4m long room for no particular reason.
While at its heart an interesting concept, Theatre Conspiracy’s interactive take serves only to befuddle the themes that need to be paid attention to. Examples include projecting questions in Farsi on the wall, looking at us thoughtfully and saying ‘what do you think?’ (no one in the audience had even a rudimentary knowledge of Arabic), having to debate about putting a character on the ‘watchlist’ from blurrily filmed contents of his bag (no one could tell what they were) and questioning a spectator about whether life is ‘a fight’ or not. These could all be brilliant ideas if they had been given the love and care that was needed, but the lack of detail and continuity problems made them just seem hollow.
This is a spectacular example of a gimmick completely taking over and almost parasitically draining the life out of a fascinating concept. There were flashes of brilliance – the sections where we actually got a glimpse of the human being we were ‘surveilling’ – but these were few and far between. To sum up with a rather apt (mis)quote from the piece itself, ‘it’s a game – but no-one knows any of the rules’.