Samuel Beckett Theatre
WHAT CAN an individual do to effect political change? This is the question posed by The Company in Politik, an improvisational theatre game in which the audience is invited to participate. The performance begins with a manifesto about civic engagement in a modern democracy and political processes that are “alien to our daily lives”. In their quest for greater agency, the performers tell us, they tried and failed to join several political parties. So instead they decided to make a show in which the audience, as citizens, are allowed to take control of what happens on stage.
Under the supervising eye of director Jose Miguel Jimenez, Brian Bennett, Robert McDermott, Nyree Yergainharsian and Tanya Wilson enact a skeletal bank-heist scenario before handing directorial responsibility to us. Ciaran O’Melia provides a suggestive design – four defined but empty spaces where the action takes place – and the audience are encouraged to provide props and extra characters with chalk. They have free rein on content, but there is an inherent semiotic significance in the sites of action, which makes certain details easy to predict.
Elsewhere, there are key decisions to be made: where exactly are the characters these actors play and what is their motivation for the crime? Thus begins a Whose Line Is It Anyway-style exercise in which the actors become our puppets for an hour and justice (or silliness) will ensue.
To remind us of the more serious intent at stake in the interactive evening, two large screens at either end of the theatre display a series of changing quotes (from anarchist Emma Goldman to The Company themselves), which remind us of the broader political impetus behind this project. The performers see theatre as a site for social change and as their fictional scenario unfolds for a second and third time, the audience is made aware of their complicity in events.
It may be a bit of a cop-out to say that the measure of Politik’s success will depend on your willingness to join The Company in its experimental endeavour, but it does. On opening night, the audience was a fairly well-behaved bunch, but we eventually warmed to the challenge, as our passivity as observers became an unspoken parable of our passivity as citizens – although the broader political significance could be easily overlooked amid all the fun. So, yes, your enjoyment will depend on what you are prepared to bring to the table. Remember, your country, and The Company, need you.
– Sara Keating