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Bush Bazaar

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Bush Bazaar is a new pop-up theatre marketplace filled with over 20 productions bartering for the attention and participation of audience members. The Bush has been overrun by provocative companies and the resulting theatrical explosion is certainly worthy of that attention.

Upon entering the space we're met with a huge 'Market Exchange' board denoting the list of companies on show, their specific venues (including the garden, toilets and attic) and the times of their performances. The shows request donations and this board provides a few general prices. Quite uniquely for the medium, Theatre Delicatessen - curators of the Bazaar - stress the importance of the audience deciding the value of each performance for themselves.

Forget budgeting or time planning however as any such forethought is thwarted by actors hawking their shows and attempting to entice wayward punters. Rather than the dreaded up-sell these pitches given by sultry nymphs, pirates, gypsies and a mysterious woman in a red dress amongst many others are playfully enticing and encourage a healthy sense of exploration.

A light-hearted attitude is certainly a prerequisite for enjoyment of this rag-tag collection. Many of the plays are based heavily on audience participation. Silent Opera's Pizzeria Dall Opera - an improvised operatic performance based on your selections of ingredients from a pizza menu - is a splendid example. My personalised aria in a space station was both unique and riotously funny. Other shows are more obviously scripted yet still very intimate. While mounting the staircase I found myself in the midst of a 1960s drama entitled Boxed & Bagged.

I was gently guided up and down the stairs by the actors who masterfully told their story, played music and dealt with the confused and curious passers-by who were using the space simply (or perhaps naively?) to get from one floor to the next.

With these plays going on throughout the night it's clear that fatigue on the part of the actors sets in. Performing several shows an hour directly to small groups is an exhausting prospect and as such, many of the pieces are sharper towards the beginning of the night. It's also a physically demanding production for the audience and even after three hours and the closing of the market I felt that there was a lot more to see. This is only to be expected with such a glut of entertainment on offer and I'm sorely tempted to re-visit the space to crack the last hints of I Spy with my Little Eye and visit the garden circus.

With this gala of shows Theatre Delicatessen aim to challenge the idea of value in contemporary British life and both the bazaar as a whole and many of the plays pose questions relating to worth. Baseless Fabric place endearing tales of personal value alongside an interactive treasure hunt; Fete or Flight? tells the story of a village fair threatened by economic cuts; and JIAC's Stuff asks the audience to decide what is of true value amongst the home (located in the men's bathroom) of a chronic hoarder. Perhaps this thematic thread is too tenuous to hold everything together but the exuberance of wares on offer at the market is strengthened by their contrasts and variety.

Such a collection therefore questions how we value theatre and how the pace of 21st century life has changed our methods of artistic expression. When you couple this provocative cerebral debate with that giddy sense of festival excitement, face-painting, a cardboard pantomime and a Justin Bieber kidnapping story the result is a whimsical carnival of contemporary theatre that will ensnare you for hours.

- Patrick Brennan


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