Hot pies, fluorescent lights, bustling commuters. You step, for Shunt’s latest production, from the commuter world of London Bridge station into a long, very dark, very spooky tunnel. As you progress – your feet feeling for solid ground – the buzz of a bar is heard in the distance, then you’re in amidst the smoke and the laughter. But this is only the ante-room.
Explore, and you’ll find your way into the production of Amato Saltone. Hand over the keyring you were given at the entrance and you’ll find yourself with a business card with your name for the evening. This lets you into the party proper.
Disconcerting, you’re in the depths of a penthouse – very effectively created – and a swinger’s party. Circulating waiters record your preferences for obscure sex acts – if you don’t recognise some of them, and you won’t – and they’ll fetch the dictionary stored in the piano stool. (A nice touch.) On and around the piano is a very pregnant cabaret singer (and she’s rather a classy cabaret singer, if heavy-handed on the flirting with the audience bit). Happily, however, the threat of audience participation is never taken too far.
Then the storm starts and the lights go out. Windows slide back, and we’re voyeurs, looking into two attic rooms where assignations are underway; not open, swingers’ party assignations, but furtive, secretive contacts. Then the male participants, in a weird variation of a post-copulation ritual, go out on the roof for a smoke. Then two men in pig masks kill the women.
So far, so intriguing. The party splits at this point, and I ended up with the larger group, in a sordid bedsit scattered with Fifties pulp fiction – The Amorous Captive is lying on the bed. There’s a nervous woman called Louise as host, and upstairs it seems the orgy is going on; “bodily fluids” slip through the floorboards.
This group is then moved into a grungy basement cinema, in the hands of two dorky ushers. But when we stop moving, so does action, and the narrative. There’s been a story, however unclear, up to this point that demands a resolution, but that ending never comes. Instead we watch fragmented selections of film noir-style scenes – a man strips before a bored receptionist, a sailor woos his sweetheart who’s a bored Juliet figure; other sailors hook up with prostitutes … But what does this have to do with what has gone before?
The company describes this production as inspired by the work of Cornell Woolrich, the “Father of Film Noir”. Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black. It has been four months in preview, but I can’t help wondering if that wasn’t a disadvantage; perhaps there was a a coherent vision that got lost in working and reworking?
This is an entertaining evening, and some interesting themes, but Amato Saltone is a lost opportunity for something truly memorable and gripping.
Links: The production home page; Other views – the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Evening Standard; the Guardian’s account of the show’s creation.