The Lost Martini
Wellington Buildings, Belfast
In time-honoured party tradition, Accidental’s immersive theatre experience begins hesitantly, with guests feeling their way around a maze of customised rooms on the fourth floor of an empty office block in the centre of Belfast. Slowly they drift towards the bar and eye up a vast menu of martini variations: Dirty, Bikini, Mourne Mountains, Last Restless Evening. Glass in hand and courage fortified, they head for the performance space, where four musicians are cheerfully making it up as they go along and a valiant torch singer (a vivacious Sarah Lyle) is doing her utmost to gee up the punters.
As the evening progresses, the atmosphere begins to loosen up in response to the determined jollity exuded by the regulars at the eponymous Lost Martini, a tacky jazz cafe, which began its colourful life in Paris and has since been recreated in some of the world’s edgiest cities by its ebullient but distinctly dodgy owner Jimmy (Noel McKee).
Under Richard Lavery’s teasing direction, house rules are free and easy in this deliberately unstructured piece, where spontaneity, improvisation and unsolicited encounters are encouraged by five assorted characters, including a homely house manager (Elaine Duncan), an aspiring photographer (Megan Armitage) and a restless young drifter (Chris Grant). It’s a tantalising premise but one that, unless carried off with real panache, has the potential to set teeth on edge.
Writer Shannon Yee has teed up a number of half-formed storylines, which audience members are given licence to develop out of the visual references crammed into every corner. Whether it’s via the wall of Post-its in the Studio, the anonymous photographs, postcards and phone numbers in the Fondler’s Office, the silently staring soft toys in the Play Room, the shiny wigs, feather boas and frothy dresses in the Diva’s dressing room, no end of weird and curious imaginings emerge.
Accidental is to be applauded for going out on a limb with a genre of theatre that is new and strange to Belfast. However, while successfully forging a genuine spirit of collaboration, it runs the risk of losing the plot in more ways than one. In production terms, the styling of the louche atmosphere of Montmartre cafe society is disappointingly flat, although composer Martin Byrne contributes some slick cabaret numbers.
For all those who will be fascinated and intrigued, there may be others who feel like hangers-on in a complicated party game, where the best fun seems to be the preserve of the gang occupying the inside track. Until March 14th