Will St Leger
Arches Theatre Festival 2008 The Arches, Glasgow
An art exhibition as theatre? Well, Will St Leger's Art Raid certainly achieved that strange status. As part of the Arches Theatre Festival 2008, Art Raid requires the audience to attend an art exhibition by stencil 'artivist' Will St Leger. Simple enough, until it becomes clear that the audience (although in this case 'participants' may be a more apt description) is challenged to steal the art.
From the moment ticket stubs are taken, security guards conduct bag searches, jacket searches, pocket searches and even wave around a metal detector. On entering, the audience discovers the walls lined with artwork featuring a host of consumer brands such as Facebook, FCUK, McDonalds and Adidas to name but a few. The comment on todays consumer culture is very apparent - and accompanied by a soundtrack from the DJ Johnny Whoop.
Staff are also at pains to point out a sign stipulating that thou shalt not steal! That is, not until the alarm sounds.
Groups and couples huddle round the varies art pieces and in a bizarre turn of events almost become the actors in the play while they are watched and endlessly scrutinized by security guards, art specialists and indeed the artist himself. On this theatrical occasion it is most definitely the audience under the spotlight!
Excited whispers fill the room 'are you going to take one?', 'which one do you want?' These whispers gradually become quieter as security reprimand those enthusiastic art lovers who overstep the white line and get too close to the art.
Tension is constantly rising and security never give up the continual searches. As a few of the smaller pieces begin to disappear, the diligent staff initiate brief scuffles with security and some of those too quick off the mark thieves are publicly shamed.
Throughout the performance the aura of a real art exhibition is maintained and despite some nervous looks, the art work is studied and discussed.
The DJ suddenly switches the tempo. As the music moves to a more upbeat tempo a silence which only lasts a second tempts the viewers to lunge towards the art. As the beat re-establishes itself there are numerous gasps and sighs of relief. Eyes meet and held stares are the order of the moment before people begin to meander around the room again.
The performance, although it's hard to distinguish between that of the professional actors and that of the audience, is an hour in length. The absence of an interval serves to increase the tension as everyone waits for something to happen until the alarm sounds.
Will St Leger injects a fresh perspective on theatre, blurring the distinctions not just between art and performance but also between actor and audience, creating a unique and creative experience.
Arches Theatre Festival (8th-19th), Tuesday 15th- Wednesday 16th April 2008
Reviewer: Alison Burns