In their attempt to create a higher form of theatre, Soundboxed Collective have mashed together an intense and interesting hour-and-a-half of sound, movement, dance, drinking and rave to bring this immersive production to London. Resting on the borderline between private members club and cult gathering, The Development gives us a glimpse into a dark underworld that, while not entirely convincing, is an intriguing concept to tackle and present to an audience.
After being led in and swearing an oath that “What happens at The Development, stays at The Development”, you do have a feeling of unease about the show, and I was genuinely uncertain of what was coming next. The main performance space is based around a catwalk, with the audience surrounding it standing, encouraged to move if they cannot see and to be free to express themselves and enjoy the music. The difficulty of this is that the audience often become quite a distraction from the on-stage action. If you give your audience this level of freedom in a performance, you need to be absolutely certain you can hold their attention when you need to. At times this works, but at others it feels a little like the ensemble are not in control, detracting from the ‘cult leader’ idea, which you can’t help but project onto the performance.
The head of proceedings, the heavily-accented Jeremiah (played by Daniel Cunningham), gives the most pointed performance of the show, his conviction in his all-controlling role never wavering. With driving electronic beats as a backdrop, his quasi-religious speeches and gospel-inspired vocals wash over the audience and make you feel that what he is saying is important. This adds to the atmosphere of mass crowd influence and the mentality of cult leadership.
The bulk of the performance is made up of a series of skits from the other members of the company, interacting with the audience and exploring issues of desire and self-control. Hayley Hill gives a riveting performance as Joanne (and her motivational boxing alter-ego Roxanne), winning the stand-out moment of the evening with her unnerving breakdown, which is shocking and moving.
While an interesting concept for a performance, the execution of The Development for some reason doesn’t quite hit the mark to make it as visceral, exciting and big as it should be. The melange of ideas and desired effects doesn’t gel as smoothly as it could; some of the supposedly more comedic moments do not deliver the punch needed to create the light and shade required to inject extra life into the show. With a little more work and cohesion, this could be a very exciting theatrical experience.
The Development is playing at the Theatre Delicatessen until 14 February. For more information and tickets see the Theatre Delicatessen website.