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The Unbuilt Room, Battersea Arts Centre – Review

Seth Kriebel

Pros: A wonderful stretching of the imagination.
Cons: At 20 minutes long, it will leave you begging for more.
Our Verdict: A challenging, creative and vividly wonderful theatre experience.
Courtesy of BAC
The Unbuilt Room at Battersea Arts Centre has a very challenging premise. It’s a twenty minute long imagined and immersive theatre piece which examines how “places create memories… and how memories create places.” It’s site-specific to the Battersea Arts Centre, a huge, rambling historical treasure-trove of a building, and enables you to use your imagination to participate in a choose-your-own-adventure story.
Going into the production, I’ll be honest, I had doubts. I’ve never been to see anything with such a short running time before and had trouble envisioning what I would get out of a twenty minute piece. I was surprised and pleased to find that twenty minutes was ample time for a wonderful imagined adventure. The piece is a race against the clock with nothing but your imagination and the imaginations of those around you to assist you in your journey. I was absolutely gutted when the alarm went off and the adventure came to a close.
There are six seats in a very average room. One seat is occupied by the storyteller, who provides you with a series of choose-your-own-adventure options to enable you to imagine yourself moving around the great building that is the Battersea Arts Centre. He sets an alarm for twenty minutes— when it starts, it starts; when it ends, it ends. The rules are explained at the beginning, and you are told right away to interact with the strangers in the other 4 seats to enhance your journey. There is no time to feel shy; only 19 minutes remain by this point, and you’ve got a whole building to pretend to see.
Over the remaining minutes, an incredible imagined labyrinth is created. You learn the building inside and out as you (and the group) make decisions about where to turn, whether to go North, South, East, West, up, down, etc, without ever leaving your seats. The building begins to appear in your imagination, and you become surprisingly familiar with the layout as the imagined maze of rooms forms in your head. There’s a huge amount to explore without moving a muscle, and it’s fantastic fun to sort out as a group how to get the most out of the building.
The journey is very fast paced, and you feel as if you’ll never have time to ‘see’ the whole building (hint- you won’t.) There is more to be gained in this piece by thinking outside the box. Do not settle for what is on the surface; listen carefully to the details of each room and remember that there are more options than what you are directly being asked. I feel as if I want to give away a particularly important tip that turned our journey on its head, but to do so would be a betrayal of the mystery of the piece – so you’ll just have to go to find out!
It’s incredible how quickly you and your merry band of strangers lose the awkwardness of not knowing each other, and get involved in communicating so as to reach an imagined common goal. And yet, just as quickly, the adventure ends. The timer that was set at the beginning erupts like an alarm clock interrupting your dreams, and you find yourself back outside on the pavement, looking up at the red lights, and asking your feet to move East or West without a group decision. It turns out twenty minutes is just enough time to excite you, inspire you, and leave you gasping for more.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
The Unbuilt Room runs at Battersea Arts Centre until 23rd November 2013.
Box Office: 0207223 2223 or book online at Battersea Arts Centre

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