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The Project
Published on Wednesday, 21 August 2013

3 stars

Zoo (venue website)
2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26 Aug, 8:30pm-9:20pm
Reviewed by Ellen Macpherson

 Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.

My first thought, upon walking into the theatre and seeing three members of the audience writing in notebooks, was that there seemed to be quite a lot of fellow reviewers in. But it turned out that they were actors, their characters part of a dystopian reality show The Project. In the middle of the stage was a girl with yellow lips. She had been admitted to the show for physical and mental rehabilitation.

Essentially, this show is positioned as therapy in a live-audience, Big Brother setting. It's eerie, discomforting, and full of crowd participation. It does a lot of philosophising and actually has some real observational gems ("I love you" is apparently a social construct). But at times, it becomes a little heavy: on a Friday night, seeking drama and entertainment, a show that consistently talks your ear off about socialisation and rehabilitation can grate a little on the nerves. The positive of this is that no-one can say Nottingham New Theatre underestimates the intelligence of its audience.

The Project does keep your attention. It's certainly entertaining in its use of physical theatre, and its engagement with the audience. The acting is top-notch and technically, the staging and direction is some of the best I've seen this year. And while audience participation is often something that makes me shudder, Nottingham New Theatre actually seem to understand it better than any other company I've come across. The punchline of the show is essentially that The Project is only so uncomfortable to watch because we had remained complicit throughout, allowing them to go as far as they wanted with rehabilitation methods. That realisation seemed like a punch in the proverbial stomach to our largely-silent audience, and was a conclusion that I throughly enjoyed.

The problem is that, although The Project is entertaining, I felt like I was getting a message hammered repeatedly into my apparently stupid, elitist, theatre-going brain (although I have to admit the monologue questioning theatre itself was highly engaging). Perhaps it's the format of the show itself that encourages it - reality TV has never really been a space for subtlety. I feel like the show went beyond just making me think, to reaching inside my head, screaming the same thoughts at me several times, then trying to rearrange them to their liking. Maybe that was the point; I don't know. But I walked out feeling as if I had been told what to think, and as someone who’s stuided the arts and social sciences, I hate nothing more than that. 

So this won't be a piece for everyone. If you despise experimental new theatre, stay as far way as you can. But if you do like something a little new and very intellectual, it's worth a try. At the very least, it's not boring: you'll walk out feeling a bit shaken up, which is a sure sign of effective theatre.

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