‘Shelf Life’ is an interactive, site-specific piece which makes use of the labyrinths of the old BBC Radio London studios in Marylebone. When we arrive we are given an Achievement Book and a balloon, which we are instructed to blow into before we start. Our journey begins down a long red corridor with numerous sperms painted on the walls, before we emerge through a foam rubber vagina into the hands of a begowned ‘surgeon’ and are told to have a drink in the bar while waiting for the other babies to emerge.

And there, right away, is the first problem, which is the maintenance of situation and character. Any interactive show depends on the continuous engagement of audience and performers. We need to know who we are, where we are, what is expected of us. We’re not trained actors, we need help to sustain the conceit and play our parts. There’s not much help forthcoming here.

From birth we pass through school, job-seeking, marriage, middle and old age. Each stage takes place on a different floor. And because the building is so vast, Theatre Delicatessen have had neither the time nor the resources to create a resonant ambience all along the way, or indeed within each ‘set’. The actors’ characters are sketchy at each stage, and because they do not have a strong idea of who they are and how they interact with each other through the show, we in turn don’t know how to interact with them.

Other shows have followed a very similar style of journey. What they demonstrate is that either we need a complete universe to walk through and be taken over by, or that the actors need a witty and entertaining narrative in their own right, as a kind of safety net, in case we the audience do not give good performances. Both these are significantly lacking in ‘Shelf Life’. Here we did not give good performances because of our uncertainties. Indeed, audience members who did try to develop some sort of character or story were put down rather than welcomed as participants by the ‘real’ performers.

It’s hard to see what the point of this show is. The title suggests that we are commodities in a supermarket, products manufactured to fulfil certain functions and as expendable as baked beans past their sell-by date. If this had been followed through it could have been a bleak and darkly funny show. But the manipulation is not there, the authority figures lack authority, and what humour there is remains distinctly sniggering and schoolboyish. The lack of structure renders the whole experience distinctly tedious, especially an interminable wedding party. Only the ending, on the roof, provides a moment of magic, but it’s too little too late.

It has to be said that the actors seemed to be enjoying themselves enormously. But it was far more fun for them than for us.

Reviews by Peter Scott-Presland

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★★★
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★★★★
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★★★
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Since you’re here…

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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.
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The Blurb

Audience carry helium balloons to symbolize life journeys in this playful promenade work, wandering through the atmospheric old BBC London building. “Born” into the basement of the capacious seven storey building, the audience and their helium-filled balloon avatars, begin a journey of their lifetime. This playful and thought provoking interpretation leads the people on a performance-led ascent through life in the modern world carrying the balloons as they go: from birth to school and the world of work, perhaps passing through university and marriage on the way. Together, the audience wander the maze of life towards that final, inevitable deflation: standing on a roof above the city, waiting for the wind to carry their spirits away. After all, there are many ways to go through life, but only one ending.

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