A heptagon of light-up tables forms the thrust stage of The Pit Theatre at the Barbican. Interrupting the formality of the space are two red rocking chairs, and a single red phone. Three screens loom over the self-declared Situation Room, which soon finds itself the site for the Council of Elders – members of the audience chosen based on their experience and remembrance of past conflicts, from the American Civil War to the Vietnam War.
The duo comprising Split Britches, Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw, await focus and silence before launching to establish the historical relevance of this particular venue, and the potential unexploded ordnances that line the walls of the space we find ourselves in.
UXO never assumes the conceit of strict performance, instead opting for hypotheticals. Lines are being read directly from the page, indication is given when actor becomes character and vice versa – this is not real. Rather, the piece asks what would we do if it were.
Usually abstaining from using the pronoun ‘we’ in my responses as to not assume the position of fellow spectators, it struck me to find it nestled so naturally in the above lines. This performance is entirely about ‘we’ – the collection of people that found themselves in that room on that night.
Weaver and Shaw hold the space for discussion in a resurgence of Boal’s Forum Theatre. Framed around the central topic of conflict and unrest with sections of dialogue to structure the evening, the remaining air time is up for grabs, whether to discuss Palestine, ageing, or the fabric of society.
Nuclear missiles have launched and we have been given 59 minutes. The audience are asked to set a timer, and allow it to continue ringing when it does – an example where the production inventively fosters anticipation. Though where it falters is in its handling of intrigue.
Often, there is a sense of filling time, falling over tables and wandering, without the relevance of doing so revealing itself. Momentum is lost as soon as it is found. Timer’s go off, and awkwardly turned off without acknowledgement.
Contextualising the concerns extracted from the Council of Elders to their agenda, the conversation is simply had. Frustratingly, the piece never truly engages with the reasons for our current global situation, nor does it offer any solutions. It appears that the aim is to take a step towards this and initiate a societal discussion; however how this extends beyond the room is unclear. Despite the charisma of its performers, Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) remains rudimental in the attempt to answer its own question.
Unexploded Ordnances is playing at The Pit Theatre, Barbican until 19 May
Photo: Theo Cote