‘Lockdown Town’: this immersive gig experience is a cure for the festival withdrawal blues

Theatre, Interactive
Lockdown Town, One Night Records, 2020
Photo by Nobby Clark

Time Out says

This immersive gig-theatre experience is good fun, albeit saddled with some crass social commentary

Ah: live music, my old friend! While a few all-seated concert halls have been able to reopen with social distancing, they’re a tiny minority - most London gig venues are not in any way suited to distancing, and things like touring are extravagantly impractical at present.

‘Lockdown Town’ is a theatrical gig experience that manages to work around these problems. The latest in the long lineage of London shows to pop up in disused railway arches, on a nuts and bolts level ‘Lockdown Town’ offers five bands in five rooms, each of whom plays a three-ish song set to the multiple small audiences that are staggered through the complex – dubbed One Night Records – at 15-minute intervals. 

Although they have to play music in line with the retro-Americana concept of the show, the bands and singers are all ‘real’ acts, and play weeklong residences in the show (you can see who is playing when on the website). It’s much preferable to just having slick in-house musicians: in the first performance room, themed around ‘50s rock’n’roll, the song choices were fairly predictable (‘Blue Suede Shoes’ etc), but I thoroughly enjoyed the way performers Oliver Darling and band just battered the shit out of them – it did feel like being at a (weird) gig. With tickets a little over £50 a go, and with a bar in almost every single room, I would hope the performers are getting a decent enough cut, a small recompense for six months of no gigs.

Where things got a little dicey for me was the general concept of director Kerri McLean’s production. In the very first scene, a grandfatherly host introduces us to the show and is approached by a young Black woman, who we meet in a succession of scenes played by an older actress each time, ie, as we head back in time, she ages. She is always mute, but pre-recorded voiceovers indicate that she is hoping to find happiness in the prosperous freedom colony of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. If you know much about American history, that name will probably set off fully justified alarm bells – I really struggled to grasp why the show needed to climax with a scene set in the aftermath of the Tulsa race massacre of 1921. Of course it should be addressed in art – but it feels somewhat crass to situate it in what is largely a jolly, boozy night out. And while it’s worth noting director McLean is Black, it’s further jarring that the Tulsa sequence comes hot on the heels of scenes in which both the Harlem and Mississippi Delta of the 1920s are represented by white musicians. 

In essence, though, ‘Lockdown Town’ is a good way to showcase bands, that also sounds good and looks good, and perhaps offers a template of sorts for how more live music might come back. It’s basically the central London equivalent of staggering around the fringier tents at Wilderness for two hours, and if that sounds fun, and you dig retro Americana, you’ll have a blast. Still, the earnest stab at highlighting a shameful chapter in America’s past is impossible to ignore but difficult to know what to do with – the troubled racial history of the US isn’t something that can just be fumbled through imprecisely, but that’s what they show tries to do.

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