‘Crisis? What Crisis?’- the interactive performance that had me so focused on convincing an especially badly dressed 70’s journalist that the Labour party was lowering inflation, that I truly forgot I was not a Labour representative in 1979 and was in fact supposed to be writing a review in 2020.
This immersive experience begins from the moment the door is opened by a disgruntled civil servant named Karen. From Margaret Thatcher on the box television set, to the civil defence handbook atop the coffee table titled ‘Advising the Householder on Protection Against Nuclear Attack’, 1979 is alive and well at the COLAB Factory. The sound of the Bee Gee’s greeted me as I entered the Labour government meeting room on the 27th of January 1979 and as their hit song mockingly suggests- we are in a state of ‘Tragedy’. Unions are striking across the country and Labour is struggling to tie together a parliamentary majority. The UK political climate of 1979 can be seen as a panicking government and a country in crisis- so you know, pretty much the same as the UK political climate of 2020.
After feeling like a bystander of the decisions made by those in power, this immersive production was the perfect exercise before the upcoming election to see hands on how the decisions made by both the government and we the people affect our entire country. Instead of sitting in an audience watching Labour representatives negotiate pay rises with shipbuilders to end strikes or call MP’s trying to win the vote of no confidence for Labour, we were the one’s getting the chance to do these things under the guide of the actors. Every decision we made ultimately influenced the end result- much like we all can by engaging with our own political context and voting in current elections.
In stark contrast to her character as Karen- the quintessentially disinterested bureaucrat- Zoe Flint expressed the necessity of having empathy for these politicians we constantly criticize. This was a crucial element of the performance I didn’t expect to take away, yet has had the biggest impact on my outlook of politicians today. As someone who is witnessing Brexit unravel not having voted for it, someone who is only old enough to vote for the first this year and someone who writes critically of politicians and politics, it can become all too easy to sit back and complain about those who are making the decisions and the decisions they make. ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’ forces you to leave that mindset that many of us are guilty of inhabiting at the door. This happens almost subconsciously as you embody what it is like to make those decisions on a time limit and with an entire country to satisfy – suffice to say it is not easy.
Tom Black has written an innovative piece of immersive theatre that not only takes you through the trials and tribulations of the Labour government in 1979 during the Winter of Discontent but hands the power over to the people as we have to navigate rising inflation. As inflation rises, comically so do the drink prices at the bar giving a heavy incentive to lower it. Fast. Regardless of the audience’s personal political alliances or prior knowledge on the state of the economy in 1970s England, Tom Black somehow manages to motivate an entire room of people into caring about inflation for two and a half hours which is, simply put, ingenious.
Words, Clare Morris
Images, Russell Cobb