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

Beta Public's show opens and ends with an exhibition of virtual games, utilising Xbox and PS3 controllers, laptops, and dance-pads to set each piece apart with their own rules and expectations. Track+Feel II acts as a nifty two-person music sampler, sifting through clashing chords and rhythms to find your own unique sound, while Mystery Tapes places you in a purgatorial TV room full of pulsing polygons and stubborn tapes that won't play for you – though limited in gameplay, each offering is achingly curious and stunning to look at. The twin-stick shooter Hummingbird, too, only rewards you with snatches of text when you've worked together to reach the game's most hallucinogenic excesses: when you're told "it's ok to unwind after a while", you feel you've deserved it.

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

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★★★★★
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★★★★★
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Beta Public V

★★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
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Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
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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.

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