Simon Katan and Luke Fraser’s Clamour could have been a thought-provoking and multimedia “choose your own adventure”, but devolved into a meandering installation that lacked vigour.
Upon entering a theatre, we’re usually met with announcements to turn off phones or at least ensure our mobile devices remain silent throughout proceedings. It’s therefore refreshing, and exciting even, to see something which urges its audience to do the opposite. In fact, phones play an integral role throughout Clamour (here reviewed in the Roundhouse’s Sackler Space). One could even think of them as silent characters in the story.
It’s encouraging to see that the team behind Clamour have also preempted the fact that some members of the audience may be technologically challenged, and provide stewards to help set up their mobiles for the performance. The other good thing about Clamour‘s utilisation of technology is that it doesn’t require audience members to download an app to participate; we’re only required to join a pre-existing website.
Unfortunately, the piece here began almost an hour after doors had opened due to issues with WiFi. This may have been down to an awards ceremony also taking place at the Roundhouse, but it seems the masterminds behind Clamour may not have anticipated the WiFi being so inundated. As a result, many audience members had to use their 3G/4G, and after quite a while of waiting, the powers that be decided to plough ahead with the piece with the help of some improvisation. With shows that heavily integrate technology, some technical issues are to be expected but such a rocky start meant that audiences had to work that much harder to immerse themselves in the world of Clamour than could perhaps be expected.
We begin with a large screen in front of us, taking in music and projection as an unknown speaker communicates with us via our phone. Whilst strong images were chosen, at moments it felt as if we were simply watching a PowerPoint presentation. In front of the screen sits a man with a laptop facing us, so we assume he is the narrator of the story. In some moments, his words sync with the songs playing, in other moments, he tells us the story of where we are: a place called Sealand. One can’t help but feel that perhaps the mystery of the speaker would be further augmented if our narrator wasn’t sat in front of us.
The story is similar to many a dystopian tale we’ve previously encountered: it entails some sort of discovery, and then destruction. What makes this different is that we are integrated into the story with our phones but more could’ve been done with the projections and music to really immerse the audience. Despite having direct communication from the narrator, the story still felt somewhat distant. Moreover, once the novelty of seeing the story unfold through those mediums had died down, there wasn’t much keeping us in the plot. The story was vague and lacked any particular character to anchor us in the events.
Soon, we were called upon to help form a new nation through our phones. We began a voting process that eventually started dividing the audience. Do we choose the individual, or the collective? Is it “our home” or “our nation”? Do we protect or develop? Should it be the government or the people? Here was a real opportunity to embrace the interactive game this play could be. With choices emerging that many audience members didn’t favour, we were soon veering into the sort of authoritarian backdrop that makes every dystopian adventure that much more exciting. Some votes were being overridden, it seems, but nothing was done to further push aggravated audience members and this event wasn’t incorporated back into the story thereafter.
In another section of the play, phone screens flickered to some other indecipherable game that was reflected on the screen in front of us. Although some audience members were receiving secret messages from the unknown speaker, here was another wasted opportunity – to throw audiences into an alien world and force them to make radical decisions as members of Sealand.
The shame about Clamour is that it had the potential to be so much more. From its space in the Roundhouse, to the burgeoning story we saw in fleeting moments, the premise set forth in the play was interesting. However, the play’s failures lie in its execution or lack thereof. Beyond the gimmicky nature of the audience interaction, there wasn’t much substance to bolster the story. With a stronger narrative and more of an aim for provoking the audience, Clamour could prompt audiences to question how they interact with the world through social media. Given more direction, this is a production that could wildly divide audiences in a visceral nature as they attempt to create some sort of a democracy in a post-apocalyptic setting.