Having missed out on tickets to the Old Vic/Punchdrunk collaboration in the tunnels below Waterloo Station last year, I jumped at the chance to see a new show staged in the complex – now acquired by the theatre as a non-profit performance space and renamed the Old Vic tunnels.
Your Nation Loves You is the debut of multi-disciplinary company Delirium, led by young director-writers Oliver Kaderbhai and Poppy Corbett who first developed the project at the Lyric Hammersmith and later under the auspices of the Old Vic, New Voices programme.
Queuing up outside the secret entrance to the tunnels last night was an experience in itself. Only last month, Bansky chose this popular graf spot to premiere his new film Exit Through the Gift Shop and the walls are still technicolour, the air thick with spray-paint. It makes the transition into the dank, mildewed interior all the more of a shock, until we find our mini-survival kits, left for us by the mysterious ‘Department of Data Protection.’
As we adjust our eyes to the light, a figure emerges. Then another. Over the next two hours, we discover there are 12 of them being held down here, though for what reason, we have no more clue than the prisoners themselves. Instead, we see the dynamics of this disparate group at play and learn the sad truth: that human nature is quite enough to make them enemies of each other, invisible captor or not.
The most powerful moments come from physical theatre – a rare flash of friendship; a tender love scene in a make-shift garden. Sadly, the points of tension in the script are more heavy-handed and thanks to an undeveloped plot, it all begins to feel more like a rather harsh summer in the Big Brother house. In the cold and discomfort, it’s impossible not to empathise with these characters. But just getting us down here is not enough.
Delirium’s manifesto states that it wants its audience to be complicit in the storyline. In reality, we are little more than spectators until the final denouement, when a twist in the tale finally forces us to take a stand. The company are clearly inspired by Punchdrunk, but they need to ape not only the other company’s ambition but also their attention to detail. One tunnel is still papered with moths from Punchdrunk’s previous show. Delirium need to learn how to fill this space and make it their own.