Review: Hidden Track Theatre’s Standard:Elite @ Theatre Delicatessen
Sitting snugly between popular retail stores, betting shops and big brand names, Sheffield’s Theatre Delicatessen is easily described as ‘the hidden gem of The Moor’. With an ethos of community and inclusivity and a real passion for nurturing emerging theatre practitioners, it’s fantastic to see the organisation evolving and thriving at such a rapid pace. Even in the short space of time since I first wandered in last September, the space has lost the feeling that it was being held together by gaffer tape and good will, and has developed into a professional space with a sense of permanence.
My most recent visit is to check out interactive theatre production Standard:Elite presented by Hidden Track Theatre. The flyer for the show reads ‘tell your own story, make your own choices, create your own class war’, ‘an anarchic mix of theatre and gaming’. Politics and interactivity? Yes, please!
We cue patiently as each person is chosen to be either a ‘Standard’ or one of the few select ‘Elites’ and guided to the appropriate seating for their ticket. One audience member looking positively dismayed at having been separated from her date who now sat proudly on the raised seats of the elite.
The show commences with the introduction of our narrators, one male and one female, who address the elites, beaming and radiant with their backs to us, the Standards. They turn to us to say ‘hello’ but only as an afterthought or inconvenience. The narrators continue to outline the structure of how the story will be told, Elites will be given the opportunity to change the direction of the story at given intervals and Standards will be called upon to perform tasks to aid in the narrative, and may be offered the chance to progress to Elite.
Unfolding as a traditional fairytale style allegory, we meet our heroine, ‘a girl from Lowground woven from spiderweb’ and our ‘damsel’ in distress ‘a boy from Highground carved from clouds’, played by the narrators and cleverly cast as the opposite of their genders, the writers are immediately toying with the traditional expectations and sympathies of the audience. The narrators try to outdo each other whilst telling the tale of their given character, increasingly shouting over each other to be heard until an all-knowing Orwellian voice booms overhead ‘Conflict detected’ and the Elites are given their first opportunity to choose between which version of the narration they want to hear.
The first Standard ‘task’ has us all scrabbling around on the floor trying to collect as many cotton wool balls as possible in order to have a chance at becoming one of the mighty Elite. This particular task is a perfect opener to the audience interaction, without much encouragement we were all out of our seats, snatching at cotton wool with greedy hands.
The tale progresses swiftly. The boy is cast down from Highground and enlists the help of the girl to find his way back home, and along the way we meet several unusual characters: Bill the Mountain Duck, The Turtle Crone, Sam the Beetle Bartender, Harvey the Fishman, and Foxy the Sly. All of whom are played fantastically by our narrators through the use of props, and excellent changes in voice and facial expressions (Harvey the Fishman is a particularly hilarious treat), evoking childhood memories of enthusiastic parents at story-time. Some characters aid our protagonists in their quest, and the rejects disappear into the abyss of missed opportunity at the will of the Elites. The looming voice booms overhead every time a conflict begins to heat up, with a constant rhetoric of ‘we don’t want anything to get out of hand.’ Standard tasks arise in the form of child-like games, I personally got called up to be involved in a re-jigged version of ‘Simon says’ and found myself quacking like a duck in a room full of strangers.
Throughout the duration of the show the parallels between the audience division of Standard:Elite and the division between Lowground:Highground become inextricably linked, as the story progresses the audience become sympathetic with their given roles, conforming to a fictitious class system subtly imposed by the writers. The show ends with an ultimatum: Which side do you choose? Highground or Low?
An all-round delightful and enlightening experience, the show touches on the darker nature of class systems and social mobility in a way that anyone can grasp, and more importantly enjoy. With a hint of Huxley’s Brave New World in the narrative, the Orwellian Big Brother style voice over, and the use of ‘Standard’ guests as entertainment for the ‘Elites’ – which becomes a real-life experience of a Black Mirror episode – combined with great performances and the chance to have a bit of fun and get involved, it really has something for everyone. If you are interested in politics, dystopian literature, audience interaction, or really just want a strange but wonderfully entertaining show, this is for you.
For more information about tour dates, see here.