‘In the air we couldn’t breathe, we found each other’. A socio-political experimental performance exploring the usage of tear gas may not sound like your typical Saturday night out: I entered this event unsure of what to expect and, rather perplexingly, left feeling both unsettled and inspired.
Paradoxical Gasp (funded by ACE) is an interactive and immersive experience, which delves into the weighty legacy of tear gas and the part it continues to play universally. Curated by Hidden Keileon, the production aims to encourage discussion and expression based around the concept of freedom. It’s important to clarify that, although this is described as a performance/event, there is a heavy emphasis on art interpretation. One could describe it as more of an interactive art exhibition, with moments of dramatisation dotted throughout the 60-70 minute run-time. Due to this gallery-esque style, there isn’t necessarily a storyline to follow; instead, it’s an opportunity to reflect and assess.
Set in the eerie underbelly of the Crypt Gallery, we’re met outside by the curator of the event; Sandra Lam. There was a definite sense of uncertainty amongst the crowd as we stood waiting for things to start, so it was rather comforting to have Lam approach each person individually and thank them for coming. It is worth noting, however, that some background knowledge is arguably required in order to get the most out of the evening, and this waiting time could have been used as an opportunity to offer up some extra information in preparation for the production.
It was obvious from the get go that a lot of thought and care has gone into making this entire experience as accessible as possible. Working with a Grade 1 listed space, despite its charm and character, does present certain issues (lack of wheelchair access, uneven flooring etc.). Regardless of these challenges, the company make the effort to ensure everyone feels safe and included throughout. This includes the presence of various actors, as well as some added extras, such as a BSL interpreter, Lam herself wandering the exhibit, and an art psychotherapist (Lily Hsu) on hand for anyone needing a break or to digest the content being shown.
Whilst a lack of a distinct storyline can sometimes make an experience feel drawn out and confusing, here there are a number of elements in place to help with pacing and holding focus. Several of the crypt’s alcoves hold different ‘demonstrations’, some of which you can freely explore and take part in yourself (the mic’d up megaphone for people to scream into was a particular crowd favourite).
The various actors play an important role in proceedings as our guides, as well as taking moments to perform lengthy physical theatre. There are few moments of dialogue throughout the evening, but a special mention has to go to the art gallery ‘tour guide’ (Vinna Law) who occasionally gathers the crowd to discuss particular artworks hanging on the wall. Although these ‘talks’ are short, they offer up a refreshing and welcome cauldron of ill-disguised sarcasm, genuine artistry, and thinly veiled jabs directed at the higher powers responsible.
Overall, I have to say that this is an entirely unique and enlightening experience. Arguably, this particular topic and style of performance does generate quite a niche audience. However, it was clear upon exiting that it had inspired important conversations throughout the group, demonstrating that this style of provocative themes and immersive techniques can make an impact. As a particular sign suggested: ‘Come, Sit, Scream’.
Written, directed and produced by: Hidden Keileon
Sound Engineering by: Nicholas Moroz
BSL Guide by: Martin Glover
Paradoxical Gasp played as part of The Bloomsbury Festival 22. It has completed its current run.