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by Tom Marshall
Monday, May 21, 2012
Large-scale outdoor project makes for an entertaining evening – but not great theatre
»Babel is a large-scale project with hundreds of volunteer performers, billed as the theatrical event of the year and a celebration of the “exhilarating diversity” of London for the Olympic year.
But it starts in rather more mundane fashion than the lofty PR talk would suggest – with a great stonking queue around the block, as around a thousand wait to be funnelled into the outdoor setting, Caledonian Park.
Eventually we enter a bizarre realm where people iron perched up a tree and wander up and down in white cloaks hauntingly muttering “it’s time to build a new city”. There is a buzzing atmosphere as groups crowd around the different areas: some make plasticine figurines, a gazebo is filled with knitting, a fantastic jazz band plays.
After a while, attention is drawn to the impressively-lit clock tower and the play unfolds. It centres on a clash between police authority figures and the settlers camped outside the tower. The leader rails against these people, ordering them to be searched, apprehended, their homes moved or knocked down, until eventually even his own officers turn against him and side with the beleaguered masses.
It starts well and there are moments of humour and excitement, but the audience is never fully swept up into the story, which has little plot movement and few ideas in play. It’s a fun experience, but not great theatre.
* Babel, produced by WildWorks and the Battersea Arts Centre, was at Caledonian Park, N7, between May 8 and May 20.