Crisis? What Crisis?
Reviewed – 12th November 2019
“the triumphant cheer that resounded through the room afterwards was entirely genuine and strangers were even hugging each other afterwards”
What did you get up to tonight, Seb? Well, I increased NHS spending by ten percent, disarmed the UK’s nuclear deterrent systems and sold the Falklands to Argentina. Not your average evening then, and that’s exactly what to expect from Parabolic Theatre’s immersive experience ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’
The word ‘immersive’ has never been more appropriate. You don’t watch this play, you become this play. A word of warning for those who prefer to take a back seat and observe – this probably isn’t for you. The same goes for anyone uninterested in politics. Because for one night, you become a government minister transported back to Labour HQ in 1979 Britain, hours before a vote of no confidence in PM John McDonnell is about to take place.
To avoid Thatcher’s vote of no confidence getting through (which would then spur a General Election), you as a minister must actively involve yourself and make tough decisions in an area of expertise – be it economics, politics or dealing with civil unrest, the outcomes of which will entirely affect what happens next. Everything you experience is in real time and there is a pressing sense of urgency throughout – as soon as one problem is solved another arises in its place.
The only way to experience Crisis? What Crisis? properly is to completely throw yourself into it, otherwise it’s very easy to find yourself lost and feeling a little awkward. If you commit to it and play the game, it’s wonderfully rewarding. Some prior political knowledge is preferable to fully get to grips with what exactly you’re dealing with, however even without it there are ways to involve yourself, and the actors do a stellar job of explaining how to play the game without ever breaking the fourth wall. I was on the economics team and immensely enjoyed choosing which government policies to implement, despite by no means being politically-minded. Others may find themselves negotiating with union leaders, consulting the treasury to see what can be spent or even appearing on national television. That last one is no joke. Towards the end of the play, a live debate is filmed and televised in a separate room where an actor will grill audience ‘ministers’ about their policies, and the ministers must defend them. It’s a level of ambitious immersion I’ve never seen before, and the fact that it works is nothing short of astounding.
What makes the ambitiousness work is the sheer amount of detail and research of the period Parabolic Theatre have undertaken in crafting Crisis? What Crisis? The room, which is essentially an office space, has been transformed with a meticulously attentive eye – every single inch is period correct. On top of this, the cast are exceptional in their roles – the performances are incredibly convincing and the actors definitely know their late 70s politics. Never losing control, they respond to every new development and every offer from a non-actor minister like real Labour ministers would. The level of skill demonstrated in their improvisation is mind-boggling – let’s not forget that this show is completely different each night, which is perhaps the most impressive thing about it as the way Parabolic have managed to weave together such a rich, complex network of events is almost unfathomable.
Maybe that’s why Crisis? What Crisis? is such an intoxicating experience. Everything about the show is so visceral – the atmosphere, the acting, the attention to detail, the fact it happens in real time – that after we all gathered around the radio to hear the results of the vote, the triumphant cheer that resounded through the room afterwards was entirely genuine and strangers were even hugging each other afterwards. As far as politics goes, this is as close as most of the audience will get to actually running the country. And as far as immersive theatre goes, Crisis? What Crisis? is a landslide victory.
Reviewed by Sebastian Porter
Photography by Owen Kingston
Crisis? What Crisis?
COLAB Factory until 8th December
Previously reviewed at this venue: