Review of 'Behind Closed Doors' at Christ Church Spitalfields
This review was written on behalf of North West End UK and was originally published here.
If there’s one thing that transcends linguistic, cultural and socio-political boundaries for humans, it’s our curiosity about other human beings. More specifically, the people who live in our neighbourhoods and their lives. Multicultural collective 27 Degrees seeks to bring forth this innate curiosity about people who live next door to us through their show Behind Closed Doors, a site-specific theatrical experience that unfolds on the streets of East London.
Credits: 27 Degrees / Facebook
The journey begins at the steps of Christ Church in Spitalfields where you are invited to put on your headphones and access the audio instructions. Step by step, you are introduced to the rules of the world and you begin your journey on foot. Guided by audio, you cross different streets in and around Spitalfields. As you progress, you choose between different options and walk towards specific locations to witness one part of the larger story. Each live performer carries a distinct presence and embodies their character completely, playing out a series of looped actions that capture a ‘moment’ in their day-to-day life. As we stumble upon their window and glimpse inside, we find them in motion, internal and external, that doesn’t try to particularly match what we are hearing on the headphones. Instead, we observe them as they are, living their truth (some of which we are privy to) as they do every single day. This deliberate lack of big, dramatic gestures and actions complements the show’s durational nature and non-linear storytelling that invites the audience to take different paths and explore the world at their own free will. At its heart, the show uses immaculate scenographic and precise dramaturgical choices to bring out three key elements in its narrative arc – the ‘discovery’, where we are first introduced to the character and their day-to-day life through someone else’s eyes, the ‘encounter’, wherein we find them at a crossroads or in conflict with someone else and lastly, the ‘revelation’, where we hear them speak in first-person and directly address us, the listeners, by taking charge of their own story. Each character’s story is unique – from comic to tragic, poetic to absurd – and is wonderfully crafted by the 27 Roots team to reflect the vast diversity of personal stories that constitute a neighbourhood. There is also care put in making the technical design of the show accessible to a wider audience through simple, easy-to-follow web design and instructional messaging. Another interesting aspect of the experience is the element of surveillance, an almost voyeuristic endeavour, as we are encouraged to take photos of the performers from behind closed doors. Sometimes the performers make eye contact with you and you wonder – who’s watching who? The highly tactile and visible act of holding out our smartphones and capturing what we see in these windows serves as a stark reminder of the subconscious judgement and commentary we pass on people (read: our neighbours) every single day. Nicola T Chang’s sound design allows the aural world to guide our intention towards the physical world whilst the company’s set design (complemented by Baśka Wesołowska’s installation design) draws our attention towards each character’s distinct living space that foreshadows who they are as people. The most striking aspect of this experience is when occurrences from the real world somehow complement the fictional world, such as the sounds of an actual police car that whizzes through whilst one character is talking about his run-ins with the law or when another character alludes to a feeling of being watched and you see another audience member take a photo.
To summarize, Behind Closed Doors is an infinitely intriguing and wonderfully crafted experience that takes you on a multisensorial journey around a neighbourhood and the intimate lives of the people who inhabit it. It’s a striking exploration of how ‘distance’, both metaphorical and literal, crafts the relationships and identities in a collective. Its masterful blend of aural technology with site-specific design and choose-your-own-path narrative makes it an intimate and unforgettable experience.
Credits: 27 Degrees
You can watch Behind Closed Doors, which begins at the steps of Christ Church Spitalfields E1 6LY, until Saturday 9th October 2021. Learn more and book your tickets at https://www.27degrees.org/behindcloseddoors
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer Reviewed: 6th October 2021 North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★