Michelle Dee just loves these immersive theatre shows. Last time she found herself thrust into the limelight she unexpectedly became Madam President in ‘The Situation Room’ (Oscar Mike 2012) and promptly took everyone to war.
With Foreign Radical by Theatre Conspiracy (Vancouver) the end game isn’t quite so final. Or at least it wasn’t for the first Heads Up audience filing into The Gulbenkian Theatre at Hull University, each clutching a numbers of red/yellow cards. (I get the feeling that the game could have different outcomes depending on what happens when you are inside).
Written and Produced by Tim Carlson directed by Jeremy P. Waller and developed with the assistance of Playwrights Theatre Centre Foreign Radical (Critic’s Choice Innovation Vancouver 2015, Edinburgh Fringe First Award 2017) invites audiences of 30 people to explore the shadowy world of surveillance and security through the playing of an interactive mobile theatre game.
Foreign Radical is given the satirical gameshow treatment with Anjela Magpantay as the very animated energised Host. She proceeds to uncover all manner of unknowns from the audience, through a series of subtle and not so subtle games. It’s an exceptionally clever and meticulously detailed lesson in profiling and privacy, balancing stereotypes, probing prejudices: surveillance and subterfuge.
Since 9/11 the world has been on red alert for global terrorist plots and for reasons of national security the U.S. Government, built a terrorist screening database known as the Watch List. Unsurprisingly almost anyone can find themselves under suspicion and once placed on this list they will receive ‘special attention’ from the authorities.
‘Define Shifty’ comes the call and I can feel I am losing my recently assembled, and seemingly loyal team. Sure enough at the first opportunity half of them scarper to join the opposing side. I’d been doing so well up until then, leading my team, gaining their trust but that panicked ‘He looked shifty,’ line – based on nothing more than blurry photographs – was about to come back to bite me.
Video projections by Cande Andrade of documentary-style footage, revealing secret papers and surveillance tapes combined with live action, serve to heighten the ever disturbing atmosphere.
The group divided, lines drawn, new alliances quickly formed in order to pass judgement: judgement that could have dire consequences.
I would not wish to play ‘chase the ace’ with ‘The Host’, her powers of subtle manipulation and memory recall would give her an unfair advantage every turn. Neither would I wish to come face to face with ‘Hesam’ (Mehdi Darvish) thinking about his capacity for cold stoney-faced calculation will chill my bones for a very long time. Days, weeks and months from now there will be Heads Up audiences, still trying to figure out exactly what happened and why Foreign Radical played out the way it did.
Programming Foreign Radical was yet another example of Heads Up Festival doing what it does best, allowing new audiences the chance to experience innovative work, that comprehensively makes them reconsider what theatre is.