Barbican Pit, London – until 19 May 2018
Set your watches – actually they make you put a timer on your phone – and it’s 59 minutes to Doomsday in Unexploded Ordnances, a new-one-on-me genre called ‘Forum Theatre’ where two celebrated lesbian actors recruit the 12 oldest audience members to be a council of war for the incoming nuclear disaster.
Lying about your age may work – participation always being more fun than merely being a spectator. Our dozen were sharp-witted 60- and 70-somethings who collaborated in a fascinating exercise fronting up to what worried them as they approached later life: mostly, health, Alzheimer’s and money – but also Palestine, late love, and a woman deeply concerned who might be the new Arsenal manager.
Among and around them gender-fluid performance partners Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver as ‘General’ and ‘President’ string a narrative modelled on the Kubrik movie Dr Strangelove that monitors the danger of live bombing but also the symbolic energy in forgotten or buried munitions. The metaphor – delivered with the subtlety of bombing it has to be said – is that our unfulfilled desires and abandoned dreams are also potentially explosive.
And then I remembered where I’d seen them before – at the Drill Hall in the early 1990s, in a version of A Streetcar Named Desire where Peggy played Stanley Kowalski in a wife-beater vest and muscled arms which made me question all my thinking about women’s bodies. She was without a doubt the most sexually magnetic Stanley I ever saw.
Shaw and Weaver retain a powerful residual store of their undoubted magnificence as feminist creatives and actors – but they’re reading the script and some energy is lost when not improvising with the ‘elders’.
I wondered how different the narrative would be if they’d picked the twelve youngest members of the audience, and how easily they might have articulated their hopes and dreams.
Collaborative, curious and leaves you with a glow that isn’t necessarily fallout.