Round the back of Bermondsey tube station, among housing estates, is a large building that apparently used to be a biscuit factory. Follow the (not terribly visible) signs into the parking lot and a voice calls out from the darkness – Are you here to see the Architects? – Which makes you feel like a surveyor, or perhaps someone from the local (Southwark) council.
Lucky that he does call out otherwise you’d never find the door leading into the side of the building, beyond which is a sort of box office that reminded me of the Tote (way back when I used to go to the races). You enter a sort of fibre-board room, then through into another fibre-board room, and another … and back again … and there’s a monitor on the wall which shows – what? … and a dead end, all quite dimly lit, and eerie music is playing … and there’s a piece of red string! Aha! The first reference to Ariadne, or rather Theseus, or rather the Minotaur, that Theseus went in search of in the labyrinth in order to kill, and managed to find his way out again using string (which was Ariadne’s idea, only Theseus then threw her over for her younger sister Phaedra – thanks Theseus).
To find the loo you follow a series of red lights in the floor, which leads you across this massive room with always the slight feeling you may never find your way back again. Once done you end up in a large room with a bar and a band and portholes showing the ocean beyond and you realise you’re on a cruise liner. And in the middle is a stuffed white bull that we assume is the Minotaur’s dad, the one his mother mated with as punishment from Aphrodite for her husband’s failure to sacrifice his prize white bull to Poseidon, as a result of which she/they produced this half bull half man that was kept inside a labyrinth. (Are you keeping up?) After a long wait in this freezing space the band starts up and a woman gives us a long, beautifully delivered but not very enlightening dissertation on architecture, in a Danish accent, after which she is joined by three others and then … to cut a long and not very interesting story short … things begin to go gradually out of control – two grownup children appear, past their bedtime so they must kiss everyone in the room (they do) and go to bed, though instead they end up doing acrobatics on ropes in another part of the building to which we are eventually evacuated, in two gender-separated groups, once the ship begins to go down. Are these the children who had to be sacrificed to the Minotaur every seven years to keep him happy?
Shunt is a collective I’ve known of but never before seen, and I booked the show in some excitement for my students well before it opened to what turned out to be, frankly, disappointing reviews. The building they have commandeered, what you can see of it in the dark, is mightily impressive, as are the technical aspects of the show they call ‘The Architects’. These are the four actors on video, drunk and abusive and bossy and behaving badly, just like the Olympic gods of ancient Greece I suppose. The show is supposedly based on a short story by Jorge Luis Borges which tells the tale of the Minotaur from the beast’s point of view – an interesting idea but I don’t know what it had to do with what we saw last night.
Still, there was a lot to be gained, other than a chill, from their show. Fantastic surroundings and impressive technical achievements, especially for the acrobatic sequence, just a bit of a shame about the content. And why they couldn’t at least heat the ‘ballroom’ properly is a mystery. Perhaps it was deliberate.
The show runs until 2 February and tickets are bookable through the National Theatre.