1884, Shoreditch Town Hall
Photo: Alex Brenner
  • Theatre, Immersive
  • Recommended



4 out of 5 stars

Fun, clever and beautifully crafted, this interactive theatre show is a biting satire on the Scramble for Africa


Time Out says

In 1884 a group of countries (Britain included) came together to divvy up Africa between them. The Berlin Conference is the inspiration for this very sharp, very clever game-theatre show from the masters of the form, Coney. 

Warning: you will have to talk to strangers, and you will have to do stuff. This isn’t a sitting in the dark kind of evening at the theatre. We all go into a big room and split ourselves into groups of seven, our little gangs sitting around a plywood table on which is a blank plywood floor plan. The table is strewn with little plywood props and pens and other things, a beautiful custom made board game designed by Chloe Mashiter and Jacob Wu. 

A story starts to unfold with the help of some deliberately over the top acting. Our tables are our new communities. We’re asked to design a house logo, create a house knock, draw items that we’d like to include in our house. We’re encouraged to discuss and chat – and it’s really kind of awkward, coming to collective decisions with complete strangers about a space we’re meant to call our home. One of my group wants to put a shrine in our home, another wants his PlayStation. 

As the games continue, we start to settle into it: bonds form, everyone relaxes a bit. And then it all starts to go wrong. 

The fun of it, really, is not knowing what’s coming – so that’s about as much as I’ll give away but writer Rhianna Ilube, who was behind the brilliantly, bitingly satirical play ‘Samuel Takes A Break’ recently, has created what seems like a fun, slightly inconsequential activity that is actually a massive metaphor for colonialism - and specifically the Berlin Conference of 1884. Even when it seems like you know what it’s doing, it’s got tricks to spare. 

What makes it so good - and, when you’re thinking about it on the train home, so powerful – is that Coney and Ilube have made the game unbreakable. There’s not much you can do to interfere with the order of things. Coney are experts at this type of game theatre thing, and they feed all that into Ilube’s conceit in a way that completely supports the point of the piece. 

And then after all that comes a second half that’s even cleverer and even more spoiler-heavy, a brilliant reframing of the evening that shows how it’s not just actual colonialism that’s colonial, but the way we tell the history of colonialism too. 

It’s beautifully constructed both on a physical level – all the bits on our boards are so lovingly, stylishly made – but also in how the show plays out as written by Ilube and directed by Tatenda Shamiso, as well as the work going on behind the scenes, the way we participants are manipulated and controlled without realising. 

This is the kind of thing Coney does so well, but the real thrill here is contrasting Ilube’s work in her fabulously inventive but also fairly straight play Samuel Takes A Break with this uncategorisable piece. I can’t wait to see what she does next. 


£20, £15 concs. Runs 2hr 30min
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