As the country hit election fever-pitch, the capital has been awash with political theatre. Stories of grubby Westminster intrigue have been served to people like me who, for some reason, just can’t get enough of it all.
The Candidate comes from The Lab Collective, a company that specialises in collaborative, interactive, socially relevant theatre. Through audience interaction, live voting and a good dollop of improvisation, this performance-come-focus group examines the relationship between a candidate (Omar Ibrahim), his spin doctor (Matthew Flacks), and a public faced with the unenviable task of picking the genuine from the false.
Standing round the edge of a small room, we are told to get our phones out and “be ready to engage in the democratic process” – it quickly becomes clear that isn’t a ‘sit back and relax’ kind of show. We are given 5 different versions of Omar the candidate to choose from. These range from impossibly smarmy to a kookily brainy, Brian Cox type. Via our text voting (‘ooooooo’ I hear you say), we choose Omar Number 2 –a smooth PR type (remind you of anyone?) who talks the talk on aspiration and reels off glib lines about freedom. We are invited to put our political questions to Omar and he tells us what he thinks, or what he thinks we want him to think.
The candidate does tend toward absurd caricature, which does get laughs, but not even the smarmiest, most media-savvy of our representatives is quite as slick and as nauseating as ‘Omar Number 2’. Thank God! As the questions go on, watching Omar’s swaggering and posing got a little samey and you feel as if the audience needed something to renew their enthusiasm.
That arrived during the exchanges between the energetic, if a little shouty, spin doctor and his candidate. Matthew Flacks, like a less sweary Malcolm Tucker, screams at Omar about his smug performance. After some coaching, the candidate is unleashed on the audience once again. It was during these exchanges that the piece was at its strongest. We saw the intense pressure the candidate was under and the odd contradiction in the need for complete concentration in order to appear at ease. The audience is invited to question a politics where style is preferred to substance and good intentions are lost in spin.
Innovative ways to engage the audience makes The Candidate feel truly interactive and good fun. If that’s your thing, then check it out.