In an office block above Hammersmith a man sits at his desk trying to transcribe a letter. Through a window just below a woman can be seen sticking balloons to the wall. They are both being watched… by a binocular-wielding audience sitting on the balcony of the Lyric Hammersmith. For this is Contains Violence, the Lyric Hammersmith’s new voyeuristic thriller. Matthew Amer braved a chilly spring evening to attend the press night.
The Lyric Hammersmith under Artistic Director David Farr is not afraid to try something new, and when it comes to innovative, site specific theatre, the Shunt team, which has created Contains Violence, isat the forefront of the game.
This is not a comfortable evening’s entertainment, and not just because the audience is sat on a collection of seats that seem to have been collected from wherever the Lyric Hammersmith staff could find them and placed on a makeshift scaffolding rig set on the Lyric’s balcony.
Being issued with binoculars to observe life in the offices opposite the theatre only increases the slightly dirty voyeuristic feeling, peering into the lives of those who could just be normal people. The Lyric also has blankets and gloves to hand out, but a large mac could have completed the look.
Aside from the oversized penguins being carried around, these could be average, everyday office workers. The man and the woman both appear stressed and aggravated, while their third companion, Kim, is a worker out of place in his office, desperately trying to be accepted and needed. As the audience is told at the very beginning, by the narrator who leads us through the action, that the woman will witness a murder, there is more to this stressful scene than meets the eye.
While the uniqueness of the situation keeps audiences interested through the meandering first half of the production, in which conversations are universally one sided, the second half sees the action come alive and some of the characters move in the opposite direction. The sounds, transmitted to each audience member through earphones, add in texture of performance what distance diminishes in visual effect. It is amazing how disturbing a well placed squelch can be.
The mere fact that a group of earphone-wearing, binocular-toting voyeurs has gathered to watch the explicit goings on in an office building is comment enough on the nature of ‘reality entertainment’ and the lack of privacy in today’s world. When the narrator pops up – as he has a tendency to do – atop another building calling out everything else he can see happening in Hammersmith, the point is hammered home.
Yet when passers-by start watching the audience watching an office building, the truly voyeuristic nature of society is laid bare.
Contains Violence plays at the Lyric Hammersmith until 10 May.