In February 2013, The Lab Collective created a new theatrical experience designed to address the economic crisis and the world of trade like never before. Entitled The Pinstripe Trilogy, these three individual but connected performances were designed to make audiences think twice about our economic situation. Joe Raynor found out more from the company.

The Lab Collective is made up of Joseph Thorpe, Natalie Scott and Neil Connolly, who met while studying at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance. As Thorpe explains, they “wanted to get lots of graduates with different skills together to work on new practices”. The trio are focused on creating innovative site-specific theatre and site-inspired work, with a highly visceral and intimate environment. On their website, the company states: “We tread the line between theatre, installation and art”. Thorpe describes how they first brought their “work to pubs, cafes and market places, providing free theatre… It was all about exposing people to new experimental work in a really unconventional space.” The Lab Collective is continually trying to create accessible and exciting theatre for people who have never experienced theatrical works before.

The Collective is proud that it performs in nontheatrical spaces. Connolly admits that if anything they try to avoid the conventional theatre space, instead searching for new pastures right in the heart of the community. It is no surprise, then, that one of Scott’s “favourite pieces was in Chester castle, in this tenth century tower. The local people of Chester don’t often get to use the tower, it really was a great experience for not only the local community but also for us to provide work for them.”

Pinstripe Trilogy, The Lab Collective’s site-specific production performed in a suite of offices in London, grabbed the economic crisis by the scruff of its neck and gave it a hearty shake. Pinstripe Trilogy is certainly not just raising the issues around the economic downturn, it is revealing the past, present and potential future of our economic situation with a frightfully realistic conclusion. Scott describes how “first comes the banker, Matador, at the beginning of the crisis, then it moves to trying to save what we have by making cuts and taxes, The Bean Counter, and, finally, Trust Fund, reveals the new capitalism which is where we could be heading: privatising childhood.”

The Lab Collective is certainly not shy about taking on highly charged topics, but what is it that makes it different? Connolly says “we’re not trying to provide an answer to what happened, rather to get people thinking, to challenge them on what it is they want and what it is they need”. This manifested itself through the interactive nature of Pinstripe Trilogy, which allows the audience a dialogue with the actors; it forces you to think for yourself on an issue that has given birth to endless scapegoats and slander. The Collective has become a master of playing with its audience, adapting characters so to have maximum impact on their spectators.

Thorpe explains how Matador, first performed in 2010, “changes a lot depending on the audience, I’ve had people say to me afterwards I didn’t realise you were so heavily capitalist and then others will say I didn’t realise you were so heavily liberal”. In all of the three pieces the actors have to be prepared to effectively change their script according to the discussions with the audience, each performance is unique. This is evidence of how well The Lab Collective has come to know its characters: they display great faith in their own, and each other’s, ability to truly become the chosen character on stage.

Pinstripe Trilogy tackles some deep issues. However, Scott says “it is not our job to place the blame on anyone, instead that is the job of the audience”.  They are trying to get people thinking not just about what happened to cause the recession but what the future may hold if we allow big companies to dictate our economic desires. Connolly explains how Matador has given him a complete mix of the good, the bad and the ugly in his two years playing the role: 98 performances, a nomination for Off-West End Award, an audience member attempting to punch him in the head, and a whole pint of beer thrown over him while performing.

Connolly’s Matador, the failed banker, challenges his audience to such a level that some, probably feeling guilty themselves or jealous of Matador’s figure of material success, feel compelled to vent their anger directly at him. Matador, just like The Bean Counter and Trust Fund, is so immersive because The Collective is not just putting on a performance, it is drawing on the audience, removing the spectator/actor barrier and talking with people about issues that matter. It sounds horribly refreshing and what theatre desperately needs.

Find out more about The Lab Collective and the company’s forthcoming work at http://thelabcollective.co.uk/.

Image credit: The Lab Collective