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Review: Crisis? What Crisis? Colab Factory - Parabolic Theatre's political role-playing in the winter of discontent

It's 1979 and the Labour Government is facing a vote of no-confidence, out on the streets there is civil unrest, lorry drivers are on strike and more industries threaten to follow. Can you save the day?

Crisis What Crisis  Courtesy of Russell Cobb (3)
Crisis? What Crisis? Photo: Russell Cobb

Parabolic Theatre's latest immersive experience is more of a role-playing game than theatre thrusting the audience into decision-making, negotiation and media interviews.

'Staged' on the floor of an old office building near The CoLab Factory in Borough, the space is divided up with clusters of furniture either desks and chairs or sofa's set around coffee tables or TV.

The walls have Labour campaign posters and charts on which to monitor industrial unrest and economic performance - inflation, FTSE, Government spending power etc - this is the pre-computer, pre-digital world.

Telephones ring, a fax-machine hums, the door buzzer sounds and there is general hustle and bustle.

Players in a crisis

There is no introduction, you are thrown straight into the world of the Winter of Discontent and it is up to you and your fellow 'players' to defeat the no-confidence vote and get the unions back on side without pushing the economy over the edge.

Early on you are divided into groups. You get to choose which department you want to work with - economics, PR, crisis management, negotiation etc with actors leading each group as Labour staff, civil servants or consultants.

There is nothing to say you can't switch group as the evening progresses but most people stuck the first group they chose.

Crisis  What Crisis  The Colab Factory  Courtesy of Owen Kingston (2)
Crisis? What Crisis? The Colab Factory. Photo: Owen Kingston

I joined the economics department, led by civil servant Karen mainly because she was amusingly dry and no-nonsense.

Our main job was to make policy decisions that would keep Government coffers in reasonable health without pushing up inflation and unemployment, crashing the FTSE or upsetting the Unions.

It's a juggling act and an eye-opener not just to what a fine balancing act managing the economy is but also what different people value.

There was much jovial discussion about the pros and cons of selling the Falklands Islands.

Shifting goal-posts

Curveballs arrive throughout the evening which shifts the goal-posts and at various points, everyone is gathered to communicate updates (each group has to nominate a leader).

With lots of things going on at once, you only get part of the 'story' which is why this feels more like a game than immersive theatre.

About three-quarters of the way through the energy flags or at least it did in my group but there was a genuine sense of anticipation as we gathered around the radio at the end to hear the results of the vote of no confidence.

Had our 'work' over the previous 2.5 hours paid off?

Crisis  What Crisis  The Colab Factory  Courtesy of Owen Kingston  (5)
Crisis? What Crisis? The Colab Factory. Photo: Owen Kingston

I won't reveal our result except to say that what was revealed did shed new light on different aspects of the evening and the role of the actors.

Undoubtedly their task was made easier by the fact that my fellow participants were up for the challenge and threw themselves into the task.

Crisis? What Crisis? does give you a fresh perspective on the challenges of Government, how fine a balancing act it is.

Not for the shy

If you don't like interaction or role-play it is probably best avoided but if you like to get stuck in and fancy yourself as a bit of negotiator or think you can handle the press then this game will be right up your street.

It is at a venue close to CoLab Factory in Borough - details are sent to you - and is 2.5 hours long.

There is no interval but you can grab a drink from the bar in the corner or use the two loo whenever you want. It is currently booking until December 8, details can be found here.

Before taking part in Crisis? What Crisis? I asked Parabolic's Artistic Director about devising the piece and how the cast prepare, you can read what he had to say here.

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Review: On Bear Ridge, Royal Court - heart-wrenching, tense and laugh out loud funny (until Nov 23)

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