Clamour – Roundhouse, London

Created by: Simon Katan and Luke Fraser

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

There’s no future in the performing arts if practitioners rely on familiar and well-trodden tactics and techniques to gain audience attention. We moved on from basic sparklers as “lightning” to full-blown pyrotechnic capabilities, for example. So it’s super to see theatre makers experiment with technology to tell a story or create an impact – on that point Clamour definitely earns its applause.

It’s unfortunate, really, that this experimentation is obfuscated by a real lack of clarity in the point of the work itself. Saying that, it would very easily be argued that perhaps this confusion is, in fact, the purpose. Clamour seeks to point out the difficulty of clear messages and ideas breaking through a tumult of noise in an information overload. As the audience participates in “elections” via smartphone, the terms of reference for what we vote for changes, and we’re forced to vote without knowledge or context. Perhaps this will seem familiar.

Modern elections, as well as breaking news-storms that whirl through the digital space with limited information and politically framed narratives before all facts are known, leave us all confused and tired – much the same as Clamour. As a piece of social commentary, it may be great in a very self-referential, meta way. However, it’s very hard to know if that’s the intention.

The use of the smartphone technology is central to the piece. Audience members log on to a website and follow live-text as the work unfolds and images are shown on a large projected screen at the front. This splits audience attention and creates a major distraction – should we focus on the phone in our lap or the image in front. It also means a long period of messing about for the audience whilst phone settings are changed and connections to wifi is arranged – again focusing on frustrating phone settings rather than getting into the mindset for a theatre show.

The first part of the piece is essentially background to the interaction – all text on the phone and images on the screen (which, incidentally, is a confusing backstory story mixing reality and bizarre alternate-universe history). The second is a voting spree. The use of technology is cool – and experimentation is great. But neither of these things actually requires the fancy tech that it uses so it rings hollow. This is technology leading the work – which as any IT leader will tell you is guaranteed to produce poor results. The result here is a performer and gizmo focused experience that the audience (and clear purpose of the performance) is incidental to.

The ideas trying to emerge here are intelligent and well worth exploring in performance – hopefully, there’s more developed work in plan for the creators of this. Experimentation and technical exploration is great. It’s how we progress as a culture and society. However, creating solutions in search of problems is not how to do it, much less so when there’s poor user experience. It doesn’t work in any other business, and it doesn’t work here.

Runs until 22 November 2018 | Image: Contributed

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