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A Small Town Anywhere

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Battersea Arts Centre has hosted many a participation performance, but A Small Town Anywhere goes one step further by replacing all performers with the participating audience. Produced by Coney, a company which describes itself as ‘an agency of play and adventure’, A Small Town is a game whose outcome is determined by the participants.

It is definitely worth emailing Henri the small-town historian before your visit. He’ll ask you some questions and help you to construct a character. The Town’s inhabitants have their own roles such as Le Baker, La Chanteuse and Le Mayor and if you have talked to Henri beforehand you might also have a secret. As well as other amenities, there is a postal service and throughout the ‘game’ the postmistress hands you letters from other ‘citizens’ accusing you of crimes which you may or may not have committed.

So far it sounds as if you are paying to perform, but although there are no actors you are not left to your own devices: the Town Crier, a Big Brother-type voice from above, makes announcements and oversees the day-to-day activities of the town (time goes quickly in A Small Town); you are also sent instructions which encourage you to call meetings or elections. The audience is responsible for developing the story, but there is always a feeling that there is someone on the outside pulling the strings and willing the residents of the Town to turn against one another. It is a clever concept and not always a very comfortable experience. It all takes place in one room and by the end (two hours later in real time or a week in the life of the Town) you genuinely feel part of an oppressive community.

The A Small Town Anywhere website states clearly that you don’t even need to talk to anyone and can sit back and watch the Town go by; but this would probably diminish the experience considerably. You need to start the rusty cogs of your imagination and play along; otherwise you could look around and see a bunch of audience members doing a role-playing exercise instead of a close community woven with secrets.

- Joanna Ing


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