Pros: Audience engagement through a novel mechanism involving ping pong bats
Cons: A muddled, confused plot, riddled with inconsistency
The Time Capsule bills itself as a “pick your own adventure” play, in the manner of those books where you make moral or logical choices to determine which page you turn to continue the story. You’re handed a ping pong bat on entering the theatre, one side red, one black. Its purpose is explained through mime: each actor appears in turn, and the audience votes on what they wear. Striped dress or spotted? White or black shoes? Tie or no tie?
The audience is split in half, facing each other across the space. In the middle, a pub table with a sign marking it as ‘reserved for JB’. The space gradually fills up with JB’s guests: five old school friends who haven’t seen each other in a decade, reuniting at JB’s invitation in the pub where they used to meet each week for karaoke. They’re introduced to the audience by the sixth performer, the narrator, who sits alone at a school desk at the far end of the room. When an unpopular chum arrives, you get to decide: do the rest sit and greet her, or hide under the table? With the audience facing each other, it’s easy to gauge the popularity of each collective decision. Throughout the evening, you’re called upon to change the course of the action in a variety of minor ways.
JB’s friends have an awkward history. A couple of them got married and divorced; one used to bully the other at school; none of them like the fifth. Which does make you wonder why they’re all friends of JB, the charismatic school friend who inspired them all, and how they came to hook up for karaoke after leaving school. After taking delivery of the eponymous time capsule that they jointly buried while at school, they’re sent on a mysterious quest by the still absent JB. For some bizarre reason, this involves staging a school prom with an underwater theme, which entails a frantic cross country drive to the aquarium where it’s being held. They cooperate in making preparations, which feels entirely out of character for people who moments ago were prickly with confrontation; why do they all willingly take instruction from the bossy Victoria, when their mutual dislike of her was all that bound them together? Why do the two male characters only now confront their bullying past, when they shared karaoke evenings after leaving school? It’s hard to imagine how these five – six, including the absent JB – could ever have collaborated on creating a time capsule.
Character inconsistency and a flawed storyline aren’t helped by the fact that a lot of the dialog feels awkwardly scripted, some of it mumbled by actors with their back to you. Revelations and accusations come out of the blue, bearing little relation to the character interaction we’ve witnessed so far. When the narrator gamely declares “We’re about halfway through our quest now!” it does little to revive a flagging audience. The set piece dance routine that all the actors perform at the “school prom” is so out of character, so unlikely in the light of their personal history that it’s almost embarrassing. The play isn’t redeemed by the tacked-on moral ending, in which each character is subjected to a one-line cheap platitude: “Don’t be afraid of the person you were, it’s made you the person you are”, along with other such trite homilies.
Having the audience decide minor plot points is a novel and engaging concept. But the woolly thinking behind this muddled play makes you feel that the correct decision might have been to stay in the pub downstairs.
Creative team: Kirsty Langley, Sarah Rickman, PJ Stanley
Producer: The Juice Factory
Booking until: 29 July 2018
Box Office: 0207 737 3419
Booking Link: https://landorspace.tessera.info/index.php