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Become a cog in a giant, absurdist machine in this improbably fun interactive show
It’s not just another night at the theatre when, as a punter, you end up wearing a lab coat, safety googles, pink skirt and a cake-shaped hat and find yourself trying to discuss communism with other theatre-goers in Esperanto. ‘The Machine’ is a collaboration between the contemporary circus outfit Collectif and Then... and the Serbian colletive Karkateg who make machines for participatory theatre – machines which for this production issue each audience member with paper tickets bearing strange instructions (hence the search for an Esperanto speaker).
Stripped of all seating, The Barbican’s Pit has been transformed into a surreal factory floor with various contraptions and pulleys and structures scattered about. Within seconds of entering and sticking on a label bearing the name ‘John’, I ended up on a production line blowing air into a plastic bag and passing it to another ‘John’ to tie up and place on a conveyor belt powered by two more ‘Johns’ who were pedalling furiously. A small group of actor-acrobats, all called ‘Dave’, yelled instructions at us before they broke away to perform daredevil pole acts. Then we all performed the ‘Macarena’ en masse – before a remote-control trolley turned up to offer us biscuits and juice. And that’s just a snapshot of the show’s controlled anarchy.
What’s it all about? Fun, certainly. I left with a big grin on my face and a trippy buzz – like stepping out of a drug-free rave. There’s a touch of the Stanford Prison Experiment to the project – some of us were asked to perform minor acts of cruelty on the ‘Daves’ and the project questions why we take and give orders and our willingness to obey. I received a ticket asking me to gang up with some ‘Marks’ and ‘Johns’ and tie an ‘out of control Dave’ to a pole. I happily obliged. The play (can you call it that? It’s more of a game) wears its themes lightly: the absurdity of the workplace, our need for hierarchy and order. Remarkably, it all made sense at the time, even with the odd lull in the show’s momentum. This sort of participatory experience can be dreadful - but ‘The Machine’ works.