Contains Violence @ Lyric Hammersmith, London

cast list
Nigel Barrett
Neil Edmonds
Simon Kane
Hannah Ringham

created by
David Rosenberg
Where does the line fall between brave experimentation and novelty for noveltys sake?

Though thrilling in theory, Contains Violence, the new project by Shunts David Rosenberg, often veers towards the latter. The show takes place on the terrace of the Lyric. On arrival, the audience are supplied with a bulky radio headset and a pair of binoculars and directed towards rows of seats that have been erected facing away from the theatre. We sit down and fiddle with our headphones, fasten our coats against the still-nippy April air. A man, clad in the manner of a BBC sports reporter and holding an orange microphone, draws our attention to the offices across the square. There, in the illuminated windows, we see a woman hanging balloons in one room, a man tapping at his computer in another.

This is sanctioned voyeurism, clearly taking its cues from Rear Window. The story however is sketchy at best; there is some evidence of stalking and scheming, of plans gone awry, but the details remain foggy, and we are supplied only with snippets of information. The audience are told at the start that a death is on the cards, that, at some point, a body will fall and, as the title indicates, things do eventually get violent (there is some particularly nasty business with a stapler). But, before that, there are long periods where not a lot happens, where people walk around offices and fiddle with keyboards, pausing to make an occasional obscene phone call or dance around to loud music.

I think this is meant to emphasise the feeling that we are prying, snooping into peoples lives, doing something illicit. But the exercise is too obviously constructed for it to ever really feel like we are seeing something we shouldnt. After the initial flutter of excitement created by the headphones and the binoculars and the sheer oddness of the exercise, the actual act of viewing from afar soon becomes, perhaps not surprisingly, rather distancing. It is very difficult to get involved with what is going on. Im not sure if a more straightforward narrative would have helped in this respect.

There are flashes of real inspiration in the writing, both in the rambling monologues of the man with the microphone and in the feeble mutterings of Kim, the inept office worker caught up in the middle of this murderous tale. During its best moments the production contains echoes of Chris Morriss Blue Jam, but too often this unsettling atmosphere is undermined by a needless glee in expletives and a sense that the production is rather keen on its own cleverness.

This is a fascinating technical exercise that rather falls down in execution. I would have liked to see a greater exploration in the nature of voyeurism, into the true nature of watching, of spying. As it is, its too easy to be distracted by the physical demands on the audience, the weight of the headsets, the chill in the air, and the inevitable disconnect from the performers means the production never quite transcends its limitations.

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