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Depot (Colchester)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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It is helpful of the Mercury Theatre to provide the patrons of Depot, the theatre's site-specific, multi-media promenade performance as part of GiFT (the town's cultural initiative), with a booklet outlining the stories involved as they exit. It would have been even more helpful if this had been provided at the start – then the whole thing might have made a bit more sense.

Part of the trouble lies – or at any rate lay for the preview performance to which the Press was invited – with Gari Jones' script which has long speeches directed between various characters spoken by the professional actors in the cast and very badly amplified. Old industrial buildings are not noted for their acoustic felicities at the best of times, and the old tram depot is no exception.

As the audience trails from one part of the building to another and from ground-floor to first-floor level and back again, the intention is obviously to draw us into the stories of rebels and tramps, suspected witches and actual murderers, the workhouse and the lunatic asylum. Even as participants, it felt more like alienation than incorporation. The show is directed by its writer; choosing an outside director might have tidied the concept.

Sara Perks has designed her costumes mainly in washed-out blues and greys, including the tabards and caps (to protect against bird droppings) issued to all members of the audience. The members of the Mercury Theatre Company are outnumbered by local singers and actors of all ages, some of whom act as wardens to manoeuvre the audience (mainly on its feet) into following the action and experiencing the other-worldly ambience.

From St Helena to the 1953 floods via the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 is a ferocious time-span to encompass in two hours. It is bound to provoke images of the historical pageants once so popular as town and village festivities. By all accounts, they at least were cheerful. For all the commitment and professionalism of the cast (there's one particularly effective chorus, but we're herded away too quickly to savour it properly) a grumbling sense articulated in another musical sequence of "why are we here?" lingers. It's surely not the aftertaste intended.


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