Come Bargain With Uncanny Things – COLAB Tavern, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Creator: Leo Doulton

The strange title certainly sums up the strange experience that Virtually Opera has created in the COLAB Tavern in Borough. Audience members must bargain with a half-mortal half-spirit for the lives of human beings. They are to bring offerings of songs, spells and art to persuade the Uncanny Thing to do their biddings. In return the Uncanny Thing will hand out delicate teeth that act as bargaining chips. It’s as weird and imaginative as it sounds, and only the pace lets this truly interactive show down.

And to make matters even eerier, the performers sing every word as they welcome the audience into this twilight world where inhabitants of Southwark petition the Uncanny Thing to help them with their problems. The audience must choose which Southwark resident to assist, and then what spells and potions should be used at the upcoming ritual where The Uncanny Thing – a menacing figure shrouded in black on the floor – is invoked.

The audience splits off into four directions to work on different aspects of the rite to come, although each section is dependent on the creativity and the collaboration between the audience members. Working with strangers is perhaps the best part of the show especially in the room with a table full of ribbons and crayons, paper and scissors, all waiting to be turned into something.

The other pathways are not so successful and there’s not quite enough to do, especially in the puzzle room where options seem limited and where small-print instructions are hard to read in the dim lights. Likewise there’s too much time provided for the crafting of invocations, which slows down proceedings to a crawl. Of course, Virtually Opera is keen to create an atmospheric netherworld, but the narrative in the first half lacks drive.

The cast can’t be faulted, though. CN Lester’s character is the perfect mix of sinister and mystery, while Will Davies offers some light-relief in his role as a scatty professor-type. Michelle Kelly is in fine voice as River, in charge of the potions and handicraft, and echoes the last word of any statement or question made by the audience. Sarah Griffin is the efficient administrator making sure all the different teams are working towards a common goal. Meanwhile Leo Doulton simmers and growls as the Uncanny Thing. Any praise or thanks from the Uncanny Thing is rare and precious.

In any show such as this, enjoyment relies on the amount of effort one puts in, or the people one is teamed up with. Those with creative flair will find Come Bargain With Uncanny Things and its pace a delight, but for other people the show may simply be too slow.

Runs until 27 November 2022

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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