Pros: A multi-talented cast use physical theatre, original songs, great multimedia and light humour to tell the story of the 2010 Chilean mine disaster.
Cons: So much is crammed into 60 minutes that it felt like the narrative was moving too fast in places.
As a South London boy I’ve often cycled past the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) and wondered what it would be like to step inside. Needless to say I was quite excited when we turned up last night as the building, with its grand staircases and stunning mosaic ceilings, is simply breath taking. I honestly felt like I’d walked into an old school dance hall, steeped in history. The BAC has always been at the forefront of contemporary theatre and is a steadfast pioneer of showcasing unique work: 33 should be the poster boy for this mantra. What a show!
From the moment you sit down the actors are interacting and mingling with the audience; asking you to reflect on your personal recollections of the Chilean mining disaster. I felt this simple technique worked really well as you are instantly immersed in the show, before it’s even started. The lights dim and off we go 2000 feet underground.
The story is the one we all know, or at least we think we do. There are 33 men stuck in a mine in Chile; they are stuck for 70 days and there are 1 billion people watching around the world. That’s it. But what about the miners themselves? What about their loved ones? What about the person watching it on the news on the other side of the world in their council flat? It’s all of these questions that 33 tries to delve into. I’m not too sure how much was fact or fiction, but I genuinely didn’t care as the various stories, of which there were many, were portrayed brilliantly.
Tom Brennan’s vision and direction is strong throughout. His use of physical theatre, against a backdrop of original music, was some of the best I’ve seen in a long time. A special highlight for me was the moment of impact when the cave collapsed. Another were the wonderful scenes showing the cast united as voyeurs, ogling at their TVs as the drama unfolded. Incredible. The whole cast is extremely tight and they all bounce off each other, quite literally, with remarkable ease and form. Special shout outs go to Tom England’s complex, yet extremely likeable and funny, Eddison; and also Jesse Meadows who played the rather evil Iturra (I’ve never wanted to punch a character so badly!). The cast were all superb in their own way as they were not only acting, they were dancing, playing instruments, singing and playing as multimedia experts with various cameras in the blink of an eye. Genius.
As the story itself is quite dark (literally), the soft undertones of humour that are sprinkled over the production are a delightful touch. Ben Vardy as the wifi guy has to be one of the funniest stage characters ever written. He needs his own show!
My only issue with 33 was the relentless speed it propelled at. The show was confined to a strict 60 minutes which, when you have such a massive heartbreaking story to tell, felt quite constrictive as the cast were cramming quite a lot in. I felt another 15-30 minutes onto the running time might have allowed for just a bit more flow. Don’t get me wrong though, 33 is an incredibly slick production.
Thanks to the clever staging, yet simple set, you feel like the trapped Chilean miners in parts and the anguished family above ground in others and I loved that. The story of 33 is so touching, and is handled with a lot of care by Tom and his cast. I would highly recommend popping along to see this, albeit brief, production before it starts it’s national tour. If rumours are meant to be believed then Brad Pitt, who is currently paying millions for the movie rights to this epic tale, needs to set up a meeting with The Wardrobe Ensemble ASAP for some insight and advice.