Encore Theatre Magazine
:: Monday, September 20, 2004 ::
where strangers take you by the hand
And welcome you to wonderland...
One of Encore's first actions after the mania of Edinburgh was to see Tropicana, Shunt's new performance installation in their new premises in the vaults of London Bridge station.
It's a remarkable event. You are led through an access door through a service area into a smart panelled corridor, and then via a lift to the vaults themselves.
There's darkness everywhere. People - or things - scuttle past. Occasionally you glimpse showgirls, sometimes preening themselves, sometimes dragging sacks that drip blood, feathered nocturnal creatures. At another moment, a series of saturated flashes illuminate scenes of horror, torture, panic, revenge. A figure in a cage cranks by, an ambulance turns into a hearse. The smell of cool damp is inescapable. It's Stephen Sondheim's Follies performed in an end-of-the-world air raid bunker.
The company are working beautifully with the space. The darkness is used exquisitely; in a small group, like the survivors of some obscure apocalypse, you have to follow a set of cryptic and baleful instructions through these dank bricked arches. In one of the sections in which you feel able to walk around and explore, the half light means that performers walk right past you without you noticing. You enter the vaults in small groups and for a while are kept separated; it is thrillingly unnerving suddenly to hear scared laughter from a crowd in another room. The fear created bonded little communities; at one point we nick some whisky left by a performer (because in Tropicana, drinks are free) and share it out giggling like children.
At the end of the first half, the showgirls, now changed into respectful black hotpants and headdresses, their legs bruised and grimy, perform trapeze acts above a hearse with rock guitar riffs chugging out deafeningly around them. It's like Reggie Kray's erotic nightmare. In the second we watch a hilarious lecture and a bizarre autopsy; the showgirls are never far away and nor is the threat of violence; pneumatic bursts of blood are left on the walls.
It's still in preview, which shows because there's an unfinished feel to some of the sequences, and I think the second half slackens the tension off rather by being much lighter in tone and not offering enough coherence to the various ideas on offer. But it's great and it'll get even better. The full price tickets are £20 but the previews are cheaper and if you phone the national and quote 'Time Out subs offer' you can get them for £10. The show will shift and resolve over the year it is supposed to be running but why wait? See it now and see it later. They reckon it's for 12 year olds and upwards, and I guess some younger kids might be freaked out, but adults will be too, in the best possible way. It's hysterical in every sense, unsettling, transformative and roaring with confidence.