Over the past few years we’ve seen a massive rise in site-specific work from theatre companies who have used old warehouses, parks, abandoned buildings and railway stations in which to stage their work. Some, like Punchdrunk’s installations in London Bridge’s railway tunnels, have been superb. One of the best was the National’s rebuilding of the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant in an empty office building for the anniversary of 9/11.
Meanwhile we’ve also had restaurants in shops, tunnels and even a plane, and shops in flats, gardens and on bits of waste ground, but now there are so many that the novelty is wearing off, and we need to start being more critical about the experience.
Last night a crowd of us went to BAC’s new site-specific show ‘Babel’ (tickets £22.50 each), set in North London’s Caledonian Park, and experienced what might sound the death knell of such shows. After trudging through the freezing wet undergrowth filled with tableaux of people washing, reading or doing the ironing up a tree, coerced by people in white raincoats and matching berets telling them they were going to build a city, we arrived at a series of ‘experiences’ that included learning knitting, making Plasticene dolls and having our palms read.
Unfortunately it turns out we were meant to take all this seriously, even the beret-people, who merely looked like annoying French mimes. At the centre of the park is a beautiful clock tower, left over from the days when this park was a Victorian cattle market, but there was no site-specific mention of its colourful history. Once there were bear pits and protest rallies here. Now there are cupcakes, gospel choirs and a bit of beatboxing. Babel has a community cast and is created by Wildworks, who specialise in huge shows, but this was an embarrassingly obvious Big Brother VS the people analogy as the wicked ‘police’ swept in to destroy the nice people’s dreams. Occupy London has a lot to answer for, not least bad theatre.
There were video projections. Someone abseiled the tower. An old man ranted about global awareness. The people raised their fists and fought back in a hopelessly limp clash that could have done with some organisation, or at least some choreography. Frankly, the people’s city didn’t look like it would survive a decent breeze. Perhaps they should have spent less time on their Plasticene models and palm-reading and perfected their construction skills. Or bought guns.
Did the lovely woolly woodland folk win out against the evil police? I imagine they did and held a victory knitwear parade but I’ve really no idea – we all went to the pub, utterly unenlightened.
Here’s the City of London, knitted into a Knitty of London, and a giant eyeball in a clock tower. Now you don’t have to go.