Billed as “a surreal fusion of dark comedy and wild visual performance” Shunt’s latest offering is Amato Saltone, currently unnerving audiences at the Vaults under London Bridge.
The Shunters love to toy with their audience’s mind, and Amato is no exception. On arrival you are given a key and before the ‘party’ even starts you have to walk down 400 metres of creepy, dark, empty vaults to get to the bar. This is just a pit stop before entering the performance area where you are given a card with your alias name on it and directions to use your key to open a locker. Mine contained an instruction to leave the party when I heard a certain word.
Once inside you’re in a penthouse apartment with large windows through which are projections of a city. It’s a swingers’ night and a pregnant singer stares intensely as attendants prepare the space with plastic matting and jumbo sized pots of Vaseline. A loud announcement - seemingly the voice of a narrator only we can hear - tells us that there’s going to be a power cut and that in the few moments of darkness an unspeakable act of violence will occur witnessed by a group of strangers.
The power cut done with the audience are divided and ushered around a maze of rooms watching voyeuristically through windows as odd, funny and downright disturbing things happen. There is no real narrative but we try to form one from the fragments of events we see.
Narrative or no, this homage to pulp writer Cornell Woolrich (the ‘Father of Film Noir’ who was responsible Hitchcock’s Rear Window amongst others) certainly evokes an appropriate mood. An atmosphere of paranoia prevails in the first ‘party’ room as the audience look around wondering who are the performers? We trust no one. The use of some very effective and filmic music adds to the ambience as does the venue, the vaults themselves having a haunted quality.
But when your seventy minutes are up and the party is over the hangover has already set in. What’s the point? Is it theatre or just a modern updating of Robert Wilson’s ‘Happenings’ of the 1960s? Are we being shunted? Whatever the answers I have to confess to feelings of fear and excitement I rarely experience in the theatre – and however pointless, it’s all rather novel. Just don’t go if you are afraid of the dark.