The stakes are high in the Cold War, and each act of aggression – or non-aggression – will come at a cost. With countless lives and the future of diplomacy riding on every decision, how can a single person knowingly define the course of history with only limited information and 60 seconds to spare? In The Situation Room, a participatory theatre experience devised and performed by Oscar Mike, the audience determines the plan of action.
“Do you like raspberries or blueberries? Would you rather wear a baseball cap or fur hat?” These and other seemingly arbitrary questions are used strategically to divide audience members onto two separate sides: blue or red, American or Russian. Once inside the chilly situation room in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall, audience members are primed about the rising tensions in Al Khadra, an oil-rich region in the Middle East. From that point on, the Russians, following the guidance of Ambassador Andrey Sergeyevich Budka (Robert Macpherson) and the Americans, led by CIA director Benjamin R. Stokely (Simon Carroll-Jones) embark on a dynamic and interactive choose-your-own-adventure style game of war.
The piece is short (only slightly over a hour) and comes packed with material, some of which is stronger than other parts. An ongoing metaphor about sharing a Kitkat, and dramatic transitions that include theatrical movement and mime, feel heavy-handed and out of place. But it’s easy to ignore these flaws, as the uniqueness of the show makes for an engaging and exciting evening of immersive theatre. Directors Tom Mansfield and James Blakey keep the stakes high and Hannah Sibai’s design creates a magnificent setting within the well-suited, old fashioned Town Hall basement. There’s a thrill in knowing that fate is in your hands, and with every raised hand, click of a button, or signature on a page Macpherson and Carroll-Jones are impressively prepared for whatever course you choose.
The audience’s role is also a complicated one, as I often found myself wondering am I voting for this nuclear attack because I’m engaged in war strategy, or because my pacifist tendencies would make for an awkwardly mundane show? Like the director of a war movie, the majority of the audience was inclined to go for the gore. But the impulsive and adrenaline-rushing decisions, much like many historically accurate war strategies in the past, do bewilderingly lose their sense of glory as the graphic repercussions become clear. In this way, the show becomes more than creative entertainment and has a subtler and more solemn message that is effectively thought provoking.
The Situation Room is playing at Shoreditch Town Hall until 28 April. For more information and tickets, see the Oscar Mike website.