Beta Public V

Billed as "a world-first experiment in merging the live and digital worlds", Beta Public's fifth iteration brings together a medley of daring talks, performances, and video-game builds that explore the role of the player in performance. Cue darkened rooms full of trippy retro music, hacked hardware, and existential Let's Play videos. It could be, as host Thomas Martin puts it, "generously described as a niche evening". But underneath its indie-game vibe is an engaging and thoughtful look at what it means to play, one that should make you reconsider the boundaries of theatre and appeal to both hardcore and abstinent gamers alike.

Endlessly surprising and imaginative, without relying on retro nostalgia to sell its relevance

The occasional refusal to cater to the player can be frustrating. The aloof card-based guidelines of a building-block parlour game ensures a lot of baffled looks, with one player complaining to the host, "someone had a lot of ideas, but forgot the instructions". The soundscape of Broken Sounds, too, never seems to correspond too well to what you do with the controllers – possibly intentional, but difficult to engage with. Of course, the incomplete or 'broken' gameplay elements also force the player to find their own way, and it can be difficult to say what's a design flaw and what isn't, which seems to be part of the overall point.

The line-up is different every night, and part of the fun is figuring out what game resonates the most with you. But the meat of the evening is in its talks and performances. Ross Sutherland's Auto-TED Talk pokes fun at empty rhetoric by giving a presentation on a topic of the audience's choosing – in this case, 'A Van of Nuns' – in order to comment on 'dream logic' and inferring meaning from seemingly disconnected media. And Christopher Brett Bailey's meta narration through the streets of Bernband's pixel-dystopia, though brilliantly foul-mouthed and irreverent, is deeply concerned about issues of intimacy in a technologically-advanced society: a striking piece of writing, theatre, and gameplay rolled into one, showing perfectly what Beta Public aims to coalesce.

But by far the most ingenious performance on show is Hester Chillingworth and Hana Tait's Agent Everywhere: a simple but mind-bending game where the performers 'visualise or kill' suggested concepts, creating or dispelling meaning as they casually munch on a bag of peanuts. Unbelievably unscripted and fiercely intuitive, the hour-long piece runs like a Kierkegaard I-Spy and never drags. Black box wasn't good enough for this: it deserves a white plateau stretching into eternity and an equally-sized audience.

At its best, Beta Public's compelling ideas push you to make sense of the disparate elements in front of you, while never proscribing what you ought to take from it. Endlessly surprising and imaginative, without relying on retro nostalgia to sell its relevance, this reviewer can't wait to see what they come up with next.

A full list of performers and pieces can be found at www.cptheatre.co.uk/production/beta-public-v/

Reviews by Henry St Leger

Pleasance Dome

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★★★★
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★★★★★
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★★★★★
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★★★★★
Camden People's Theatre

Beta Public V

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

London’s BEST and ONLY curated night of videogames and performance is back, featuring an all-star cast of CHRIS BRETT BAILEY, GREG WOHEAD, HESTER CHILLINGWORTH & HANA TAIT, NINA SEGAL, PIPPIN BARR, JULIAN GLANDER, DREAMFEEEL and many more. Exploring gamification, game theory, participant volition and the interface of live & digital, BETAPUBLICV is the ultimate cultural mashup at the meeting point of theatre and computer gaming, a showcase of the newest thinking and innovation across both art forms.

Every night will offer a chance to play through a menu of the weirdest and most wonderful new video games from indie makers, as well as to experience new performance from some of the UK’s best interactive and game-led theatre makers.

HIGHLIGHTS INCLUDE:

· A brand new ‘text score’ from CHRIS BRETT BAILEY, creator of This Is How We Die, for a playthrough of Bernband – a videogame set in a neon alien futurecity

· GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN’S HESTER CHILLINGWORTH & HANA TAIT’s Agent Everywhere, a durational performance adventure

· GREG WOHEAD shares a new short work of ‘remote theatre’

· PIPPIN BARR’s Durations, featuring games that last up to 1000 years

· How Many Blocks to Build the Future by Hamish Macpherson which is a piece of installation art reimagined as a board game.