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dreamthinkspeak's Unchain Me at Brighton Festival – review

The world premiere immersive production continues until 12 June

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Abigail Lythgoe, Tatenda Madamombe and Marie-Helene Boyd
© Lucas August

A bunch of students sitting on the grass; an elderly couple enjoying snacks on a park bench; a squirrel foraging between the bushes – it's a sunny early evening in the pretty gardens that link Brighton Pavilion with the Dome. A small group gathers outside the entrance to Brighton Museum. It all looks innocuous, bucolic even.

But this group of theatregoers has been prepped in advance, via a Youtube speech from Lucas, our handler for the night, to be on the lookout for something altogether more sinister.

Is that guy with an earpiece strolling past one of the security detail, or is he a baddie spying on us? Are the elderly couple watching us? Who is that person in a hi-vis dashing past the window?

Lucas has brought us together – one of 10 groups in the ‘cell', we're told – because democracy is under threat, politicians are only looking out for themselves, and we need to take action, now. We're invited tonight to attend a soiree thrown by his sister, who owns the estate where he rents a place, and where he is planning some sort of showdown.

There are rumblings that all might not be well in the state of Brighton. Each member of the group is given an iPad and told to switch off phones and follow instructions.

There then follows a two-hour immersive experience that takes us through some of Brighton's most historic buildings – the Museum, the Dome, the wings of the Theatre Royal and even the Old Courthouse – but via the back rooms the public never get to see.

Various characters tell us their story along the way, luring us in so we all feel that we are here to right some very real wrongs. At first there's a sense we are one of them, that we're in on the game; then we realise this is not a game.

As the story unravels, the tension builds, and the audience is confronted with a moral dilemma – and the line between who are the good guys and who are the villains becomes blurred. The denouement is a masterclass in the personal versus the political, and the audience is initially conflicted.

There's a certain expectation from any work by dreamthinkspeak, Brighton's leading site-responsive theatre company, that has garnered plaudits for past works inspired by Shakespeare (Hamlet), Chekhov (The Cherry Orchard) and the mechanical world of Da Vinci.

It's an interesting caper, and what starts out as being on the side of right – fighting for democracy, for hope, for the dispossessed – culminates in more of a personal odyssey. And while there is a sense of jeopardy – and a chilling sense of a Johnson v Starmer standoff – it's not strong enough to carry the audience through a slightly woolly ending.


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