A Minotaur myth mash-up that promises mayhem

Shunt’s first show for three years will be typically radical

On an unassuming grey door on the concourse of London Bridge station, there's a sign: "No access to Shunt." To most commuters, if they notice it at all, it will mean nothing. For a lucky few, however, passing that door brings a rush of memories. For five years, the damp, brick railway tunnel hidden behind it was home to one of the most vibrant, cult performance venues in London: the Shunt Vaults.

Extraordinary occurrences were commonplace, not least in Shunt's own large-scale promenade theatre productions. Feathered showgirls rode in on hearses. Fencers duelled on the walls. Briefcases spontaneously combusted. "An orthodox Jew on a foot-cycle. A nun on a spacehopper," adds David Rosenberg, one of Shunt's 10 co-founders. "We don't know what these images mean either, but we'll find something strong, something funny or peculiar, in them that interests us."

Having abandoned the tunnels in 2009, the collective set up home in an old tobacco warehouse on Bermondsey Street. Now, in a former biscuit factory down the road, they will open their first new show in three years. The Architects, which opens tonight, is a freewheeling riff on the Minotaur myth, which will be staged in a specially constructed "disorientating labyrinth". "It's a simple story that everybody knows," says Rosenberg. "But looked at from other perspectives, the Minotaur essentially becomes propaganda, which leads onto fearmongering and what it would take for a country to sacrifice their children. It's the idea of the bogeyman – be it communism, fundamental Islam, rioters. Our society runs on fear."

Beyond that, the company is keeping schtum. One curious detail has emerged, though: there will be a "sex machine". In the myth, King Minas's wife is besotted with a white bull and commissions a contraption to enable consummation. "With the historic reference and our puerile interests, it seemed a shame not to bring it into the piece," says Rosenberg.

This is Shunt's way: to hurl an audience into a headspin. Their performances are expansive, hallucinogenic journeys, teeming with twisted pop cultural references and laced with an absurd, satirical bite. "We try to interrupt an audience's expectations," says Rosenberg. "The worst thing is an audience that knows what's going to happen next."

While the internal logic can make Shunt shows seem nonsensical, politics always permeates. Dance Bear Dance (2003) referenced the war on terror. Their last show, Money, touched on the financial crisis. "Now, we find ourselves in a period of enforced austerity with the idea of Europe being challenged and Greece taking a battering," says Rosenberg, "Because our shows don't aim at a preconceived end-point, they're malleable to current events."

For Shunt, meaning is always secondary to experience – too secondary for many critics, who have deemed "whatever you want it to mean", a cop-out. "Confusion and bafflement" is a deliberate ploy, argues Rosenberg. "We've failed on occasion and made something that's simply baffling, that's slipped into impenetrability."

It's in stark contrast to a certain type of voguish interactive theatre (Punchdrunk, say), a mode Shunt are keen to distance themselves from. "It's often a bit like those Choose Your Own Adventure books," says Louise Mari, another co-founder. "You appear to have choices, but they're all much of a muchness. Those shows are prescriptive. They expect a reaction."

"The audience have very little choice in our shows," agrees Rosenberg. "They can't choose not to see things or walk away. They can't really leave – it's a labyrinth, after all – which can make people quite anxious. In some ways, it's about being taken hostage."

'The Architects', The Biscuit Factory, London SE1 (020 7452 3000; national theatre.org.uk) tonight to 2 February

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
News
‘The Late Late Show’ presenter James Corden is joined by Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks for his first night as host
news
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss