That the press performance for Barrel Organ’s latest work Conspiracy falls on Friday the 13th, is an ominous symbol. This night feels ripe for superstition, particularly given the presence of a full Harvest Moon suspended amongst the stars. As it is, this production draws its power from the seeming inaccuracies surrounding the iconic photograph, Lunch atop a Skyscraper. Three conspiracy theorists read the room, toes tucked into a beige carpet, their mouths pressed against microphones. Uncovering the truth behind the image is their primary concern – a quest fuelled by nervous laughter and a keen self-awareness.
Conspiracy is entertaining, despite what could easily become a macabre subject matter. Given the current explosion of fake news across the world’s political stage, Jack Perkins’ script couldn’t be timelier. In lending itself to more sarcastic witticisms (mostly at the hand of cast member Rose Wardlaw), Conspiracy lacks the weird and wonderful nuances typical to that of Barrel Organ’s previous works. For the most part, its signature strangeness is present only in small doses: the blinking of lights and narrative threads falling from the flies working to unsettle the audience slightly, as opposed to unseating them entirely.
A murderous cover-up soon bleeds into a secret ‘brotherhood’, in addition to underground societies behind the Moon Landing and Princess Diana’s death – enough hocus-pocus to warrant a visitation from the dearly departed Elvis Presley. Here, the nature of theatre is recognised as a deceptive art, much like those methods of storytelling involved in historical revision. Conspiracy demonstrates the danger of such practices, rooted as it is in soil fertilised by prejudice and insufficient evidence. In this, the piece is demonstrative of how quickly stories can become science and the speed at which fiction turns into fact – not to mention, the high price of an inconvenient truth.
Conspiracy however, needs more grit. The action tends to motor on at one pace, making it feel slack, though this production certainly has the capacity to thrill. Even when emotions run high onstage, it is without a sense of risk. The company would do well to expand on its more eerie details as a means of maximising tension – that a glorious feat of stagecraft by Rosie Elnile is presented only in the play’s final moments too, seems wasteful. While it acts as a powerful closing image, come the curtain call, one can’t help but feel slightly cheated, bemused and befuddled all at the same time.
Conspiracy is playing at the New Diorama Theatre until 5 October. For more information and tickets, visit the New Diorama Theatre.