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The Theatreguide.London Review

St. Pancras Church Crypt      February-March 2010

This is an attempt at a site-specific mood piece that falls short in every way.

You enter the crypt of St. Pancras Church to be greeted and offered coffee and a party hat for a surprise birthday party for the absent Nick. Needless to say, Nick does not arrive, nor are he or the party ever mentioned again.

Instead, you are invited to wander through the church cellars, where you first find what looks like a writer or researcher's study, strewn with books and papers

(Some audience members will stay or return and rummage through the papers in search of meaning. They won't find it.).

Abruptly, a man's amplified voice is heard, and if you explore further, passing a man holding a candle, a woman playing with a puppet, and other silent figures, you may come upon the chamber in which a man hunches over a table and reads aloud, slowly and affectlessly.

If you peer over his shoulder, or have read the press release, you'll learn it is one of two M. R. James ghost stories he will read during the evening, his droning voice broadcast throughout the cellar.

From that point on, you are free to stay in one of the chambers or hallways, watching not much going on, or circulate around the spaces in search of other not muches elsewhere.

There are minor variations - the candle man and puppet woman slowly move about, and you are likely to find them or one of the other silent figures someplace other than where they were in your last circuit.

But there are a limited number of performance or posing spaces, so the possible permutations get used up pretty quickly - say, in the first fifteen minutes or so - leaving you with another ninety minutes of ever-diminishing hope that somewhere something interesting might happen.

(Sometime in the second hour one of the silent figures slowly climbed the stairs and opened the exit door, and I'm afraid my only thought was 'Why does she get to leave?')

The intention, apparently, is to generate a vague sense of eerieness in the juxtaposition of the James stories, the moody setting, and the odd behaviours.

But almost none of what goes on is evocative in itself (There are a couple of nice moments with the puppet), none bounces off anything else in interesting ways, and none connects with the stories being read so blandly.

If this performance piece suggests anything, it is the 'Happenings' of the 1960s, in which unrelated bits and pieces were thrown together in the hope that they would generate connections and meanings. But Warnings completely lacks the happenings' anarchic energy and sense of humour.

Besides, as someone should have warned this company, there is absolutely nothing deader than yesterday's avant-garde.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Warnings - St Pancras Church 2010


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