It was partly curiosity about the idea of what a site specific promenade performance might entail, but mostly it was interest in seeing what the cellars and underground spaces of Somerset House are like that took me there to see In The Beginning Was The End by dreamthinkspeak.
Invited inside in small groups of about 10 at a time, you are led across a back courtyard between Somerset House and Kings College and downstairs into a subterranean warren of corridors and small rooms. Walking through, either following signs or being pointed in one direction or another by either performers or silent guards, you process through a series of tableau and scenes, performed live or projected on large screens. Some of it was incomprehensible, other segments surreal or comedic, all of it disorientating, so that it is a surprise (to me at least) when, at the end, we emerge at the opposite side of the Somerset House courtyard.
They very specifically ask that we not say too much about the surprises of the event, so as not to spoil it for people who are yet to see it, and I will try to honour that, so you can be sure, there is more to it than I am telling you.
The literature says that the piece was inspired by a Leonardo Da Vinci drawing entitled A Cloudburst of Material Possessions, depicting an apocalyptic downpour of man made objects. The question of whether technological invention for its own sake is good or a bad for the soul is broadly what is being explored in the show. So we walk through a room filled with out dated electronic scientific equipment, and witness demonstrations of useless devices, explained in a babel of different European languages, and we see unhappy employees of the fictional Fusion company fighting and shouting.
Because it is a promenade, such that you determine your own pace through the event, I suspect each person’s experience will be unique, as not everything is happening all the time. In some of the reviews I have read in newspapers, the reviewer has written about elements that I simply didn’t see; but I don’t think that matters. Each person will take something different from it anyway.
I think the bits I liked the best were those showing surreal business meetings. How often have you sat in an internal meeting room with no windows listening to someone talking about a not very interesting topic and wished that something, anything, different would happen? Scores of times. How much more fun would it be for the meeting room to be flooded so that everyone had to put on the scuba diving gear they had brought with them for just such an eventuality? Or what if the table started to tilt at one end so that everyone’s papers slid off the end, and you could all leave by sliding down the table top?
My overall feeling was that it thinks it’s more profound than it is, that there were some elements that amused me, and kept me standing waiting to see how it would develop, while other things didn’t connect at all; but when you’re promenading, you just walk on. They say on average it takes between 70 and 90 minutes to go around, and my experience held true to that.
Have you seen it? What did you think? And how many times a night do you think the performers have to take all their clothes off and put them back on again?