Pros: A funny, tense and engaging play, that comes with the added bonus of being able to look around a stranger’s living room.
Cons: This was the last show in the run, so if you’d like to experience this one for yourself you’re out of luck!
Usually when I tell people about a show I’m going to review, I get a mostly enthusiastic response. Occasionally, it’ll be something like ‘well, rather you than me’. This was the first time the reactions were more along the lines of ‘are you sure this is legit and you’re not going to be kidnapped?’. That’s because The Vanek Trilogy took place in a stranger’s living room at an undisclosed address, and all I knew was to come to the corner of a street off the Shepherd’s Bush Road at 7.30 PM to await pick up. Fortunately, there were already quite a few other audience members on the scene when I arrived, soon followed by two ladies with clipboards, so it was all a lot less sketchy than it sounded like. (You’ll be relieved to hear that I’m writing this on the tube back home after the show, rather than from the boot of a car.)
The Vanek Trilogy, as the title suggests, consists of three scenes based on plays by Czech dissident-playwright-turned-president Vaclav Havel, all featuring his alter ego Ferdinand Vanek. In this unique setup, the entire audience of about twenty people share the role of Vanek. In each scene, the actors interact with various members of the audience, quizzing us on anything from Vanek’s (our) sex life to his (our) willingness to engage in couples’ yoga.
The three scenes are only loosely connected; in the first, Vanek’s background is questioned by the landlady of the pub where he works; the second features a rich couple showing off their lifestyle in a sort of live Instagram experience; and in the third, Vanek tries to convince an old friend to back him on a mission that’s very definitely not government approved. Without giving too much away, the recurring theme of the evening is an exploration of the consequences of standing up to power.
At the start of the show I was not convinced by the format, which, although enjoyable, didn’t seem to have much purpose. The ending, however, packs a surprising punch which would not have been nearly as powerful in a more conventional setup. The living room setting works well too; it’s not the most spacious venue, but it adds the intimacy that the play needs to make its impact felt. Being in a space like this also changes the rules of the evening: from the very meta-theatrical introduction (‘You are about to see three scenes in three different locations that just so happen to all look exactly like this room’) to the opportunity of sharing a beer and a chat with the excellent cast at the end, this is a different, more involved way of experiencing theatre. And it’s one that I’m very much in favour of. The only downside to the show is that, although I would love to heartily recommend it, it has now finished its run. But if you like your theatre a bit different, you should keep an eye on ONEOHONE Theatre Company; I certainly can’t wait to see what they come up with next.