In Ulrike and Eamon Compliant, Blast Theory take an innovative approach to the recent trend for audio theatre, using mobile phone calls to guide you through the city and on a journey “inside the mind of a terrorist”. The experience begins inside an installation upstairs at Nottingham Playhouse which incorporates some background information on the titular characters Ulrike Meinhof, the infamous leader of the Red Army; and Eamon Collins, an IRA supergrass.
The piece is thoroughly immersive and interactive – on picking up the mobile phone in the installation, you are immediately asked which character you would like to “be”. From then on, you are addressed as them, and required to make decisions about the journey you take and record your answers to questions along the way. And it is this active participation in the unfolding drama that gives it its illicit and, at times, unnerving thrill. Standing on a street corner while an anonymous voice on the end of a phone instructs you to “act natural” elicits the childish excitement of playing at being a spy, but this is quickly replaced by a growing sense of unease at the realisation that each step taken draws you further down an unfamiliar path, where the details of the destination may be murky, but it’s clear the consequences are far from trivial.
The drama unfolds like an ethical “choose your own adventure” story – as you navigate through busy streets, hidden tunnels and empty parks you are asked if you want to stop and take the easy way out or carry on. You are explicitly and implicitly forced to consider whether you are decisive or hesitant, and what lengths you would go to for what you believe is right – what would you sacrifice? Would you kill? Without spoiling anything, the piece is such solitary experience that the ending (or at least the one I chose!) is somewhat jarring, and falls a little flat with a “reveal” that was unsurprising. However the experience of the piece as a whole is unique and exciting, and like a choose your own adventure story, invites repeat visits to explore the other character and the consequences of making different decisions along the way.
As with any promenade audio drama, part of the experience is being invited to see parts of the city from a new perspective and, certainly for me, to discover some fascinating locations for the first time. If the aims of the NEAT11 festival are to showcase Nottingham, and give its residents the chance to see exciting new theatre, it is vital that the drama leaves the auditoriums and comes out onto the streets of the city.
Reviewed for Left Lion