Verbatopolis

Verbatopolis is the name an ageing anthropologist has given to his series of lectures, delivered for you by a talented group of actors who illustrate the scenes he has studied. The anthropologist is the proud owner of a time machine, but one with a glitch. It will only transport him to one particular minute: 4.02pm. Over the course of an hour, we witness more than 30 one-minute scenes, interspersed with narration from the anthropologist.

The show is evidence of devising at its best.

Considering that Bearpit Theatre Company is a school company and that the whole cast is 16 or 17, the quality of the performance is incredibly high. The ensemble is comprised of solid performances by actors who are so well rehearsed that they move seamlessly between the diverse scenes and complex blocking. Rory Meade, as the anthropologist, is simply charming. He inserts some well placed touches of humour into his performance (such as his proud explanation of the theatrical techniques his actors are employing) as well as some unexpected pathos.

The whole play acquires an additional depth when you know that the one-minute scenes you are witnessing are real conversations, recorded verbatim. As part of the process of devising the piece, the actors were sent out into London to listen to strangers and write down any particularly interesting segments of conversation. This element of truth allows us to really empathise with the anthropologist when he talks of the frustration of never knowing how the different stories ended.

Perhaps a slight downside of this method of acquiring material for the show is its negative bias. I counted three positive encounters (and a few neutral ones); the overwhelming majority were negative. The London this show presents is one in which homophobia and misogyny are rife and more relationships are disrespectful than aren't. Perhaps this is an inevitable consequence of recording only memorable conversations that take place in public: respect and warmth tend to be quiet, more private pursuits.

In general, however, the show is evidence of devising at its best. It has plenty of nice little touches that can only be the result of long-term commitment to the project and a willingness to maintain a high level of enthusiasm.

Reviews by Grace Knight

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

On the streets of Verbatopolis, everything is overheard. In a world bursting with media the spoken word on the streets of the city is still the barometer of society. Conversations between lovers, friends, strangers - eavesdropped, recorded, enjoyed, retold. This is a production about intimate moments in public places; 45 scenes from across a city, all taking place in the same minute. A fast paced montage of characters, offering glimpses of the turning points that slip past unnoticed. A play about the impossibility of privacy in a public world and what happens when we think no one is listening.