Review: REMOTE LONDON, St George’s Gardens

It’s a busy old place is London, with its dangers and its shelters. One of the key questions at the heart of REMOTE LONDON is whether we’re most at home as individuals, or as a group – as a hoard. During the experience, because it is much more than that; it is a performance, I found a number of safe places and moments, but none where I expected to find them.

REMOTE LONDON is an iteration of REMOTE X, a project by Rimini Protokoll and co-produced by Theatre of Europe and Chelsea Theatre in the UK, that has run in a number of cities around the world. Each show involves 50 participants donning headphones for an audio guide around their city.

We meet in the sunny and secluded St George’s Gardens near Russell Square and are given headphones and receivers. At 4pm sharp the show begins. The philosophical wonderings of robotically-voiced Rachel begin at once and come in spurts for the next hour and 50 minutes.

The system is incredibly adept at guiding the hoard – as we are dubbed – out of the gardens a few minutes later and out into the city. We cross busy streets, navigate crowded squares and underground tunnels with such precise direction and timing that it is easy to feel safe. There are even moments when we’re asked to close our eyes and I do so gladly. Whenever the group splits, you can guarantee that they will emerge from the metropolis exactly when and where Rachel says they will.

Rachel is always keen to draw your attention to systems around the city, and makes the experience self-reflective. How often do we choose to play the part of a cog without realising? But we, the hoard, have formed a system ourselves and are asked to do things – to dance, to run – that inhibitions would normally halt you from attempting. I myself could never perform in the street, but I danced happily with the rest of the hoard in a crowded central square. It was invigorating.

There are interesting social questions posed at intervals too, different subjects for observation are chosen – sometimes within the hoard itself. Who looks like they will live the longest? Who looks most like you? The headphone system, shrinking the environment around you, helps to cultivate such introspection.

The production team should be congratulated additionally for the amount of access that they have negotiated. We fluidly enter and interact with buildings and surroundings in surprising ways. The audience isn’t always walking however, so don’t forget your Oyster card! Sadly, TFL aren’t quite as timely as Rachel and it feels like the experience is occasionally let down by excessive time spent waiting as a result. The production is prepared for this, but it feels afterwards like an externally imposed – and much less interactive – interval.

You’ll leave impressed by the precision. It’s difficult to imagine any group going wayward with such a well thought through infrastructure. It’s a very interesting experiment, and I wonder how it might be taken further with the introduction of narrative aspects, or an agenda focused around a London-centric subject. As it stands it is a very successful experiment, and well worth your time.

REMOTE LONDON plays on a selection of dates until October 20. Each performance begins at St George’s Gardens.

Tom Shore

Tom Shore

Tom studied English at university, and now works as a school teacher. On the lookout for unexpected and thoughtful theatre, he is keen to reach to all corners of the arts world to find something to tell his students about.