The last time I visited V22 it was for a swing dance lesson and I felt that the massive disused biscuit factory in Bermondsey had great things ahead of it (besides of course, my interpretation of the Lindy Hop). The National Theatre has clearly thought the same: giving free reign to Shunt to create a "wildly disorienting" immersive theatrical performance.
Disorienting maybe, but certainly not wild. The audience is initially left to wander through a plywood maze, a frugal labyrinth offering a few glimpses at closed circuit television and booming sound effects. So far, so underwhelmed. More impressive is the main chamber: a decked out cruise ship complete with playing band, a bar and large projection screens. It is here that the main story unfolds and the crew of the ship endeavour to entertain us, the cruise patrons.
There are moments of comedy as the band play songs inappropriate for the cruise and the attendants joke about the debauchery patrons are engaging in. Unfortunately however, mild amusement is the strongest emotion this production can really evoke. Without much narrative impulse the piece chugs along at a fairly lax pace. The malevolent cruise ship owners watch and interact from projected screens and this interaction is certainly one of the more potentially provocative aspects of the piece. But these characters are over-played and simply come across as ridiculous super-villains.
The last quarter of the piece attempts to radically ratchet up the tension between the crew and cruise owners, introduce elements of danger and try to create panic amongst the audience - a laudable goal in immersive theatre - but it is ultimately ineffective. Without more foreshadowing the audience is quickly complacent, sitting in the bar of the ship eating peanuts and waiting for something shocking to wake them up.
Shock and bewilderment are very different things and The Architects wanders far too close to the latter. The lacklustre maze leads into the cruise scene which follows on to an impressive acrobatic endeavour on ropes. Each of these aspects had so much potential and has clearly been crafted with a lot of attention, each attempting to push up against boundaries and provoke reaction. But none of them are good enough and as a whole the piece does not make much sense.
Towards the beginning of the play we receive an odd lecture on the importance of taking risks despite what critics might say. I absolutely applaud this attitude but it does not make The Architects a good play. It's new, it's different but without any real narrative drive it's quite a dull and tame effort.
- Patrick Brennan