Participation, as I may have suggested before, makes me nervous. Whether it’s art or theatre, the idea of having to be more than a silent, thoughtful viewer in the audience is enough to make me squirm with nervous tension. This probably explains the beginning of my ‘Shelf-Life’ experience; blushing a deep red beneath a hard hat as I tried and rather spectacularly failed to blow up a balloon several times.
“Look after her, will you.” suggested one of the actors to my friend before we were sent off down an ambient red tunnel only to emerge from a giant fabric vagina into the giant hands of a doctor. Somehow surreal moments like this succeeded in curing me of my nervous giggles.
There was no need for me to feel like it was such a test, the silliness of Half Cut’s approach to philosophising on life endeared everyone to get involved; that and the skill of the actors in coaxing their participants into character whether they were nervously at the fringes of a wedding dance floor or remaining tight-lipped in group therapy. This was the ultimate beauty of Half Cut Company’s Shelf Life.
There was no particular mystery to the part I was required to play. This was a run-through of life and much of it was familiar; I felt especially comfortable being passed cheap wine in a polystyrene cup at a student party. That part, along with the cynicism of a recruitment company crushing my dreams of academia, felt quite close.
On the record book which I carried through my Shelf Life, along with my helium balloon, the disclaimer noted that part of the information I gave must be true. I could have given myself an entirely new persona, but it was difficult not to bring some real experience to the performance. Where did I want to live? Where did I want to go on holiday? Who did I want to be? All of these questions appealed to my instinctive desires as well as my imagination.
Shelf Life was not just about the individual, it was a collective promenade through the 5 levels of life and it was impossible not to respond to the collective. One participant in his 60s, Peter, seemed to come into his own as we reached the upper echelons of shelf life: “Shut the window” he demanded as we shuffled into our retirement home. As we were all herded out onto a balcony to release our shells (the helium balloons) into the cold autumn night, there was an affectionate chorus of “Shut the window!”. That was how we all ended our lives.
It interested to me to think about how our ages dictated or transformed each of our experiences. The programme suggested that the performance tackled the ‘meaninglessness’ of life, but it was its fleeting nature which struck me. One minute I was lauding it over all the single ladies at a wedding party, enjoying a cheeky kiss before being shipped off on a coach to middle-age. Then, at the next moment, I was sharing my anxieties in an Over-40s therapy session and wondering when everyone else in my group had the time to get married and have seven children. How had life passed me by so quickly? Why wasn’t I married?
I guess life can be like that.
Absurd and philosophical, Half Cut’s Shelf Life was ridiculously enjoyable. I recommend that you catch it while you still can.
Shelf Life will be at Theatre Delicatessan, Marylebone Gardens until the 10th Nov 2012. For more information visit theatredelicatessen.co.uk