Amato Saltone

Shunt Theatre Collective
Shunt Vaults, London Bridge
(2006)

Theatre collective Shunt's USP is playing games with your mind. Unconsciously, they may be the inheritors of the mantle created by the inventors of Happenings in the 1960s. This kind of adventure is a risky business and when it doesn't work, can seem like an unending stream of mindless twaddle.

Happily Amato Saltone, which has much in common with Tropicana, their previous work underneath the arches at London Bridge, is much more accessible. Where that sprawled and offered only rare flashes of inspiration, this piece has far greater coherence and artistry.

You enter the world of Shunt by walking 100 yards or so in darkness until you reach a bar area where you are told that the entertainment will start in fifteen minutes but drift in when you feel like it. This is a far cry from the ushers at the Globe!

Each audience member is given a key and a pseudonym and it will later transpire that some also receive instructions about subsequent activities to be carried out as key words are spoken. Disappointingly, despite strong initial indications, this is not the hundred-strong swinger's orgy that was originally promised.

Then it is into the company's recreation of the world of Cornell Woolrich, the "father of film noir" and creator of a number of pulp fiction stories filmed by the likes of Hitchcock and Truffaut. The music relies heavily on saxophones, while the lights are kept low and the soundscape is impressively eerie.

Bits of cheesy detective stories are almost seamlessly bound together to make a 75-minute "event" that packs in a mass of ideas.

The mindgames are classy, as audience members unexpectedly become players, answering phones and appearing in dramas.

In the kitchen for example, having been introduced to and hugged by the lovely Satanic Lola, the lights go out (that could be Shunt's favourite phrase) and some kind of kinky orgy almost brings the ceiling down. When the curtains open, the remainder of the audience can be seen watching these guinea pigs with voyeuristic interest.

The final scenes are almost borrowed from Tropicana and show a film that is actually a "live" 3D mime with ironic voice-overs. This is true film noir stuff with sailors, tarts and an aura of murder. The set at this point, like the genre, is then efficiently deconstructed.

Amato Saltone does not always work but following a rehearsal period of over three months (50% longer than the official run), the ensemble acting is assured and the production very slick.

Provided that you don't mind long periods in darkness, it is also very effective. London is not awash with experimental, site-specific pieces of this type and those who brave it should enjoy an unusual but rewarding experience.

Philip Fisher