Review of "Perfect Stranger" by ZU-UK
This review was originally written on behalf of North West End UK and was published here.
It’s been a little over a year since many around the world went into a lockdown, isolated from the communities around them and distanced from the social lifestyles that inform a big part of their identities. How does one then ‘connect’ in this new, strange world – how might we find a way to bring back, no, rather keep alive the intimacy and exchange that makes us human? ZU-UK’s new project Perfect Stranger aims to investigate this very question through a unique, participatory experience that challenges and delights you like never before.
To put it rather simply, the project is a series of playful provocations and collaborative tasks that you, the audience, exchanges with an anonymous partner over 5 days. This partner can be living halfway across the world – you don’t know their name, their age or anything about them apart from the conversations you engage in and the details you discover together. ZU-UK say this project is an investment into a connection to another human being who knows nothing about you, and who has no judgements, no prior knowledge, no historical or emotional baggage with you aka your ‘Perfect Stranger’. The experience takes place over WhatsApp, wherein you receive a set of instructions that you and your partner attempt to traverse together. You are asked to anonymize yourself on the app by changing your name and are given explicit instructions not to reveal any personally identifiable information, not in the beginning at least. With the experience itself lasting 5 days of back-and-forth prompts which serve as the starting point, it really is up to you what you make of this connection – once it ends you may say goodbye to your perfect stranger or maybe, forge a relationship unlike any other in your life.
The experience on WhatsApp culminates in ‘The PlagueRound Game Show’, an online session which invites the participants to join as contestants on a live game show and collectively think about fresh ways of generating remote connection. ZU-UK says they use game design to crack open how collective experiences can link us, how we find a sense of ourselves in the post-normal and how we can define what the post-normal looks like. You can watch a recording of the game show here.
I had the unique experience of participating in this project two different times, once in September 2020 when I was moving countries during the pandemic and now, in February 2021 when I’m a little more settled (I think!). My experience was wildly different both times – not just because of my own circumstances but also because of the two different partners I had and their thoughts, observations and circumstances that informed the conversation. As for the prompts, these included instructions that had us answer questions (for e.g. ‘What has been an important source of comfort for you through the pandemic?’ and ‘What are you doing with your life?’ amongst others), send each other a voice note, share a photo and finally, arrange a call with each other. What I appreciated was how these prompts found a delicate balance between keeping the conversation focused yet leaving enough room for one to be as interactive as they’re comfortable. Both of my perfect strangers gave me a glimpse into their rooms, their day-to-day lives and what they’re going through at the moment. What stood out to me was the common fears, anxieties and dreams we shared rather than the social or cultural differences that separated us. It allowed me to feel the presence of a ‘collective’ solidarity in response to the present times, an experience that I’m going to forever cherish.
To summarize, Project Perfect Stranger is a unique participatory theatre project unlike any before. All it asks is for an open mind, some willingness to engage and a WhatsApp number to open up a stranger’s world to you and, by extension, give you another glimpse into your own.
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 25th February 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★