ARTICLE 19 at THE FREE WORD CENTRE, FARRINGDON
Audience participation is at the heart of this political game where – surprise, surprise – power and money hold sway.
In The People vs Democracy, writer and director Jamie Harper and producer and designer Bern Roche Farrelly have devised an audience-participation game where the interests of business, money and industry are set against the basic needs of ordinary people – like healthcare, education and housing.
The idea is to find a way to sway the political system in your favour. So as the game progresses, participants join forces with key players like the farmers, the miners, the educators, the housing bosses and so on. And after hearing alternative versions of the news – not unlike the Guardian vs The Daily Mail – they can also vote on sticky political decisions like, Should we privatise healthcare, or, Should we approve huge wind turbines that will take green belt land?
The answers seem obvious to begin with, but as the game progresses it becomes clear that some people – hands up land owners and property developers – are coming out of this with stacks of money and a controlling interest in the the most fundamental aspects of life. And for the people struggling on low incomes, the most cherished political convictions may be dented by the realisation that there is neither food, housing nor health to be had without accepting compromises that might once have seemed unthinkable.
The concept is a great idea for a provocative and immersive show, but there are some problems with the execution. The newbies to the game aren’t always entirely clear what they’re meant to be doing, and with a number of entirely separate activities going on in the same room, the noise levels rise so quickly it’s hard to concentrate on, or even hear, what other participants are doing.
And running a game for almost two hours without a breather makes it feel a bit like being trapped in a very long council meeting where the topics under discussion are no doubt vitally important, but baffling to the uninitiated.
It would be useful to have a clearer conclusion to the game too – although admittedly neither life nor politics have neat starting and finishing points.
But the performers are convincing and engaging, and this live-action game is an intriguing production that – with some judicious tweaking – could become a fascinating way to unpick how far any of us are committed to doing the right thing when our own values and comfort are at stake.
• The People Vs Democracy presented by Article 19.
Perfs 08, 21, 22 May at 19:00
Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA. Box office freewordcentre.com