Without Warning has a brilliant location, but takes a while to make the most of it.
Created at Laban Theatre last year, it’s been restaged in the Old Vic Tunnels, arched brick spaces under Waterloo Station. The tunnels are both echoing and claustrophobic, a fascinating setting for a work about incarceration – once you can find the performance.
Directed and choreographed by Lizzi Kew Ross, Without Warning draws on images from An Evil Cradling, Brian Keenan’s account of his years as a hostage in Beirut. Ross was inspired by Keenan’s visceral descriptions. This isn’t a narrative, or a dramatization of individual experience. Instead, it evokes chaos and resistance. Keenan has given the project his approval, giving a reading at the venue during the run.
The show opens with confusion, as dancers and musicians lurk in corners of the tunnels. The chaos is deliberate, but some of it just feels disorganised. I kept wondering if I’d promenaded into the wrong end of the venue. (At one point, a clutch of us were shooed out of the backstage area.)
Once the show settles down, it gets more interesting. The dancers struggle with each other or show obsessive behaviour. A woman forces herself along the tunnel wall, clawing at the bricks, sending up clouds of dust. There’s a ruined room at one end of a tunnel, with two men clambering around the space that used to be a window.
One keeps saying “Yes” and “Mmm” as the other talks about home economics: why it was wrong to drop the subject from schools, what it can teach you about budgeting, why you shouldn’t keep lettuce in the fridge. As he babbles, he clutches at the other man. They cling on tight, clambering round each other, both hanging on. It’s never a conversation: the speeches and the responses are both nervous tics, not quite an exchange.
Other performers sing, notes of music coming out of the dark. Two cellists drag their instruments about, the spike rasping against the uneven floor. Dancers hammer furiously on metal, raging at their environment. They run out of side tunnels, moving among the crowd. It’s unpredictable, but tends to break the mood, as audience members look about for somewhere convenient to stand. Without Warning has committed performances and some striking moments, but needs more focus.
Until 11 February. Box office 0844 871 7628. http://oldvictunnels.com