Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Etiquette

Created by Ant Hampton, Silvia Mercuriali and Paul Bennun
Rotozaza
The Ustinov, Bath Theatre Royal, and touring
(2008)

Photo of a previous "performance"

Leave all preconceptions at the door for this one: this half hour of theatre is like nothing you've experienced before. Described as a "theatrical installation", Etiquette is the latest in Rotozaza's acclaimed, unconventional and site-specific theatre. It's a natural progression from their recent work, Double Think and Five in the Morning, where unprepared actors are given a series of instructions by disembodied voices. This time, you and your partner (you book a half hour slot in pairs) become both actor and audience, and the disembodied voices piped into your headphones prompt your own, very personal performance.

This is a magical, unthreatening experience. Though you sit at a table in the sparkling foyer of the all-new Ustinov theatre, there is no one watching you, except your partner. What unfolds in your headphones is a series of three micro-scenes, beginning with a man in his sixties and a young girl, prompted by a scene from Godard's Vivre Sa Vie.

The conversation is central here, forming both theatrical device and subject. It is entirely prescribed for you, and while this may start out as a stilted affair, perhaps deadened a little by stage fright, you soon relax into it, and discover that there is a thrill in listening to what your partner has to say, and for a moment not having the first clue how you are going to respond.

As you handle, mould, draw and manoeuvre the props, listen to the voices in your head, and carry out the instructions they give you, a world is created which is every bit as captivating as any you have enjoyed as a passive audience member, and a great deal more mysterious.

There may not be any great spectacle here but the act of relinquishing responsibility for thought, word and action is a unique and enlightening one, and the effect is unmissable.

"Etiquette" runs in the foyer of the Ustinov until Saturday March 22 and visits the Barbican, March 8-9.

Reviewer: Allison Vale