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This is a play currently on at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith. Or perhaps 'piece of theatre' would be a more accurate description, as I don't think this can really be described as a 'play' except in the loosest sense.
The Lyric is a generally pretty good theatre, and is one of the few reasons to go to Hammersmith, a uniquely unappealing part of London. It's very easy to find from both Underground stations, being about a minute's walk up King Street. It often puts on unusual stuff - the amazing Shockheaded Peter had its first London run there - and Contains Violence is a pretty radical departure from normal theatregoing.
The performance takes place in an office block across the road from the theatre. The audience sits on the roof terrace and watches the action through binoculars and listens through headphones. Which is a pretty damn cool idea. Unfortunately the actual play itself isn't very good.
There are two very ordinary office rooms in which the story, such as it is, takes place, and a central staircase is also used. Another room has indistinct actions taking place behind blinds (which rather disappointingly turned out to be a projected film, not live actors, but I guess it keeps the cost down). The two main rooms are some distance apart, so you have to keep flicking between them with your binoculars (most people quickly figure out that you can see enough unaided to only use the binoculars when something significant seems to be happening. They're quite heavy after a while). So it certainly keeps you on your toes, as you never know for sure when something important might be happening in the window you're not looking at. There are plenty of windows in the building that don't seem to be part of the entertainment, but sadly they aren't teeming with non-actors doing real-world stuff.
The story itself, which involves four actors - three men, one woman - is some kind of murder-related episode. One of the guys gets killed right at the start and the rest of the play seems to be a kind of flashback to what led up to that, although it's not quite that simple and no answers are ever offered. The problem is that the story really could have done with being a bit tighter, and less nonsensical. I'm all in favour of weird, non-linear storytelling, but this was cryptic without being interesting. It ended up annoying me, and apart from the novelty of the setting I didn't take much away with me at the end. It just felt like a wasted opportunity, a riff on Rear Window without any purpose beyond showing off technical virtuosity.
And it's a shame, because it really is a great idea. The acting was all good, as far as I could tell through the binoculars. Technically it was flawless, with occasional use of other surrounding buildings. The sound was really nice, the dialogue accompanied by sinister ambient noise and the odd burst of music. Unfortunately this made it feel a bit like a sketch from Chris Morris' Jam, but without any jokes, especially since there was a sequence of what you might call 'extreme swearing'. There were a few funny bits (mainly revolving around a hapless office junior named Kim), but sadly the violent bits didn't really come off, perhaps because the hyper-realism of the setting made the stylised stage-violence seem very fake. The last thing I saw by the same director, a 'play' called Amato Saltone in the amazing vaults under London Bridge station, had the same problem - great setting, some lovely staging, but a lack of coherence. He seems to be aiming for a kind of dreamlike, Lynchian ambience, but I don't think he's got there yet. I hope he keeps trying, though.
I don't want to sound *too* negative about this. On the whole I enjoyed it and it was worth going to. The novelty of the idea and the location are enough to carry you about halfway through, and it makes good use of The Pina Colada Song. It's just that after a certain point I found myself just watching random passers by through my binoculars and ignoring the play. It promised more than it delivered, but it was a worthy effort, and that kind of thing is worth supporting. But this is the third time in a row that I've come away from the Lyric unsatisfied, so how willing I'll be to trek that far down the Piccadilly Line again is uncertain.
It's on until May 10th, and tickets cost £15. Seats aren't allocated, you just turn up and queue, but all the seats offer a good view. It starts at 8.30 (it needs to wait until dark, I think it will start later as we move into May). Wrap up warm - they'll give you a cagoule in case of rain but gloves are a good idea. It lasts for about 90 minutes. One of the actors mingles with the audience at the start to make sure that everyone's headphones are working OK. It's recommended for over 18s only, although I suspect that might be to make people think it's going to be darker and nastier than it actually is. It's not bad as such, but you may find your goodwill towards it disappearing at about the halfway mark.