Any project taking place in the tunnels under Waterloo Station has an air of excitement and potential to be something truly spectacular. In the past year, tunnel 228, as it is officially known by Network Rail has played host to some of the most captivating performances and art work since Kevin Spacey with the Old Vic begun to weave an air of magic in this forgotten place.
When entering these tunnels, you can not in the slightest forget what you have experienced in the past. Punchdrunk’s Tunnel 228 last year was a remarkable experience for me, and it is ingrained in every wall and tunnel and even in some cases there is still evidence of the project on the ceilings. So much is this work resonant with the experience of these tunnels it takes something completely extordinary to break this – unfortantely Your Nation Loves You doesn’t do it.
A group of 12 people have been chosen by the government, plucked from the streets of London, and placed within a series of tunnels somewhere beneath the city. The reason? A threat of some description on London, that means that if we as a Nation are to survive, only the best will be selected to preserve human life. These strangers have been living for weeks – months attempting to survive with no indication if the threat to London has happened. Their only method of survival comes from the food parcels sent from above, and their own ability to adapt to this new way of life.
The problem with Your Nation Loves You is a sense that it has been developed elsewhere from the space that it now inhabits. It feels as if Delirium: have created this work and attempted to mold it around the tunnels instead of an organic combination, and sadly it doesn’t fit. Whilst the concept is brilliant, it has been poorly executed. You need more than just a great performance space to let a performance win you over.
Delirium: have missed the opportunity to embrace this creative space, instead only half reaching out to it with their storyline that fails to engage completely. The story is clunky, and feels at times as if it is being dragged out for the purpose of the last scene. There is no real progression and nothing is resolved at the end. It feels more like a work in progress than the premier of a new piece by an emerging theatre company.
Sadly the unresolved story is not the only problem with Your Nation Loves You. The elements of physical theatre/dance between some of the characters does little and if anything makes me wonder why it has even been used in the first place. The direct address to the audience, again creates confusion – why is it used? Your Nation Loves You uses far too many elements instead of keeping it simple. The music/soundscape also, whilst is nicely placed against some of the text, often stops before going on repeat again – it doesn’t flow as it should with a piece of this nature.
Your Nation Loves You does however have an unexpected twist, that works remarkably well. I won’t however give away what happens, but it does explain why the story seems to drag, why we are shuffled between certain tunnels backwards and forwards, and lastly some of the main plot holes.
Whilst this revelation made me stop and think, “Ah, yes… very clever”, it wasn’t before long that suddenly the whole experience became somewhat familiar to Shunts work. One of Shunts first pieces in their Bethnal Green railway arch used exactly the same revelation that Delirium: have used for the final scene within the tunnels… I won’t spoil this moment for anyone who is going, but the similarities as a theatrical device within the same sort of settings are questionable.
Don’t get me wrong, it is obvious I did not enjoy this piece, but there are some brilliantly young and talented actors in the cast who do make the experience enjoyable.
Delirium: is a new company, and this piece will be a huge learning curve for them. I won’t be put off by future work, because despite my dislike, they do have an exciting imagination for their work. I only hope that their next work is simpler, more precise, and that they stay away from the use of physical theatre when working in the environment they use.
My advice is to go and see Your Nation Loves You for the experience of something different. It is not the best piece to go in these tunnels, but at least they are being used for a good purpose. Wrap up warm, regardless of the weather as it is breathtakingly cold under there.
Your Nation Loves You is running until 2nd April in the tunnels under Waterloo Station. Tickets can only be brought online and not on the door. Booking in advance is essential: Book here.