The first rule of this immersive theatre production is: I’m not allowed to reveal the name of the source material. The second rule of this immersive theatre production… You get the picture.
Project Mayhem, as it’s not-very-subtly named, is the latest show by Secret Studio Lab, a company that sounds like, but is not, a spin-off of the world-conquering immersive theatre group Secret Cinema. Both take a movie and craft a semi-improvised experience from the material, with the audience encouraged to participate in a number of loosely-scripted tasks. The main difference, aside from scale, is that Secret Studio Lab doesn’t go on to screen the film.
Project Mayhem takes place in a warehouse in Dalston, where black-clad paramilitary types greet ticket-holding “Space Monkeys” and set about indoctrinating them into their anarchist organisation. Audience members are rounded into groups and set to work planning nefarious anti-social activities and preparing for the coming revolution. These sections are fun and well acted, although they never quite overcome the embarrassment factor that so often proves to be the undoing of this type of production (Punchdrunk theatre successfully utilises masks to encourage bravery through anonymity).
The film – it’s also a novel, but this feels far closer to film – lends itself well to this type of experience, and the set-pieces, which centre on a series of well choreographed fights, certainly conjure the spirit of the material, each one filled with the disconcerting slap of flesh against bloodied flesh.
It falls down on its inability to tie these disparate elements together. While Secret Cinema crafts a narrative that’s only tangentially related to the source material, Project Mayhem is essentially a super-cut, with the characters spouting lines verbatim with little regard for whether they make sense out of context. It’s a shame, because when things occasionally deviate from the script, Project Mayhem shows flashes of anarchic brilliance.
First published in City A.M.