Friday, February 16, 2018

Review: 'It Made Me Consider Me' at the New Diorama Theatre, 15th February 2018

It Made Me Consider Me reviewed by David James
Rating: 3 Stars

Hot damn, what a space! GRUFF Theatre's It Made Me Consider Me is staged in ND2, a stupendously enormous Regent's Place office block just around the corner from the New Diorama. Its round central atrium feels similar in scope to the reading room at the British Library. It could be a kind of corporate Colosseum, in which desperate office drones battle to the death as their co-workers bay like animals from the balconies. 

Tonight it's the venue for R.A.L.P.H - a company which specialises in memory retrieval, storage and playback. We, the audience, are a group of fresh employees working through an induction day. This involves being given a fresh identity and taken through the methods and philosophies of this very strange company. 

Our guides on this adventure are HR Manager Sue (Cordelia Stevenson), memory technicians Christopher and Peter (Johnathan Blaydon and Derek Elwood), handyman Merv (Thomas Bostock) and eccentric rollerblading CEO Ralph (Rhys Slade-Jones). Each of these characters is slightly 'off': over-enthusiastic to the point of mania, passive-aggressively snapping at each other's heels and apparently afraid of someone or something...

The show winds and weaves out of the central atrium into the half-finished back rooms, full of networking equipment, air-conditioning units and heavy-duty fuseboxes. It is a deeply surreal place: supposed to be throbbing with money-making activity yet inert and creepily sterile, as if the shrink wrap on the place has yet to be fully removed. Though the cast are all effective it's the setting that does the heavy lifting - simply being here is atmospheric as hell.

But despite some effective scene-setting and a decent sense of mystery, the various pieces of It Made Me Consider Me never quite gel. I'm guessing that the piece was formulated in response to the location, with GRUFF Theatre figuring out what kind of show would best exploit what's available to them.

In that respect, it's a success. But the show is so self-consciously weird that there's little room for pondering what the story means. Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind covered the same territory, exploring the significance of memory through a science fiction lens and ending up making some pretty profound points. So it's a shame that It Made Me Consider Me just didn't 'make me consider me'. Boiled down it's a bunch of talented performers running as fast as they can to conceal that there isn't much thematic meat on these bones.

That's not to say I didn't have a good time. It's nice to see a genuinely immersive show and I always love the thrill of stepping into a scene and performing. I also deeply dug the off-kilter 70s sci-fi vibe and the send up of beige corporate culture. And, on top of all that, simply being in the building is fascinating.

It Made Me Consider Me is a really good piece of theatre, but it could be a mind-blowingly great piece of theatre if they followed through on their concept and developed the narrative a bit more. Still, it's going to stick in the mind for a while to come yet.

It Made Me Consider Me is at the New Diorama until 21st February. Tickets here.

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