Brighton Festival 2013
The landscape is so familiar: the bricked-over thoroughfare, the bins, the bollards, the benches, the big name brands. What histories, what mysteries lie behind our pedestrianised shopping centres? Who were Mr Boot and Mr Smith? Who is Claire, and when did she get so into accessories? And who is here now? What’s that man doing? And what on earth does that woman have in her handbag?
George Street, Hove. A bland featureless shopping street peppered with the usual array of chain stores. It is in this unprepossessing environment that the genial crew-members from Inspector Sands hand us shopping bags containing the headphones which will guide us on our audio adventure. After a short safety briefing we are instructed to don our headphones by a pre arranged signal (a nose scratch). From then on we are to pose as ordinary shoppers, albeit ones with overlarge headphones milling around in a confused-looking group.
The next 30 minutes are an amusing wander down the street, where we receive brief histories of some of the shop’s less salubrious holding companies and slightly dodgy business dealings. We are also encouraged to notice elements of buildings above our normal eye level, and muse on the purpose and activity of the passers by (who would probably be quite disconcerted to realise they have been pointed out to 30 people who are all staring up the street after them!)
It’s all quite gentle though, and it’s slightly unclear whether the company were aiming to make a blistering social commentary on consumerism and the fading demise of the British high street or just nod slightly in that direction. I think they could have pushed this element of social critique a bit more, as it would have given the piece a little more drive. However, they did manage to avoid coming across as too worthy and there were some nice humourous moments that had me grinning widely, no doubt making me looking like a bit of an idiot should anyone have looked my way!
Having taken part in numerous pre-recorded audio tours in the past, a welcome element of this production was the liveness. Our headsets were radio transmitters and an incognito performer who could point out real-time happenings in the street guided us along. The only slightly disappointing element was that he really built it up that anything could happen, but to my mind nothing truly extraordinary did occur. Therefore this build up created a slight sense of disappointment in me, which wouldn’t have been there if he hadn’t over promised and under delivered. That being said, as I left George Street that day, a police van had blocked off the end of the street, and there were numerous cops milling about looking officious, so maybe I was just party to an unfortunately bland 30 minutes on the street, and for the next audience there truly would be something extraordinary to witness.