In the Beginning was the End

Jim Stephenson
Somerset House, Aldwych Wednesday March 27 2013 0:00

The sleek visions of machine-induced apocalypse in the ‘Terminator’ and ‘Matrix’ films rather flatteringly supposed that the same mankind responsible for Network Rail would somehow be able to accidentally create a perfect race of super-intelligent killing machines.

More plausible is the entertaining Armageddon sketched out in this promenade show from immersive theatre specialists Dreamthinkspeak. Here, the human race is obliquely laid low by a series of crap electronic gadgets, including something called a ‘petbot’, and the ‘TNT’, a sort of robotic therapist that seems to delight in screeching abuse at the user.

Director Tristan Sharps’s sprawling show takes over a chunk of the lower recesses of Somerset House, turning it into a world of malfunctioning machines presided over nervy scientists who squawk away loudly in a multitude of languages.

Allegedly inspired by The Book of Revelations and an apocalyptic Da Vinci painting, the early sections are the more portentous. After a while, though, the darkness parts and the whole affair becomes rather more tongue-in-cheek, the foreboding considerably tempered by some wonky mechanical creations that suggest mankind is more likely to be destroyed by its own crapness than its genius.

In many ways, humour is the show’s great saving grace: Dreamthinkspeak are forever doomed to attract comparisons with immersive theatre godheads Punchdrunk, and with its shallow cast interactions and rather wishy-washy concept, ‘In the Beginning was the End’ sometimes feels like a less-brilliant cousin of Punchdrunk’s brooding 2009 hit ‘It Felt Like a Kiss’. But Punchdrunk really don’t do funny; Sharps’s quirky visions may be frustratingly vague at times, but they’re great fun, with just enough creepiness to send a shiver down the spine. Andrzej Lukowski

Venue name: Somerset House
Address: Strand
London
WC2R 1LA
Opening hours: Daily 10am-6pm
Transport: Tube: Temple/Charing Cross/Covent Garden
Price: £19.50-£24.50
Event phone: 020 7452 3000
Event website: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk