An Unusual State of Affairs

Slick – September 3rd 2011

Park Hill Estate. Friday night.

Me, Pete and a couple of hundred or so arty looking types are queuing up for wristbands outside of Park Hill Estate.   The sun is setting.  To our suspense-filled eyes the building becomes akin to a sort of Soviet-style Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.  We wonder about the joys held by the mysterious concrete enclaves within.

Well, we know this much: 250 talented actors from the British Youth Theatre are currently gearing up in the guts of the estate to perform ‘Slick’.

Quite suddenly, and with a cheer we’re through the gates.  The nature of the ‘mass participation performance’ our program offered up as a description quickly becomes clear.  Within moments a frantic group wearing life rings want to buy a ticket for the ‘boat’ from us.  A pompous triad of questionnaire takers interrogate us about our recycling habits.   Our favourite I think was an over the top London boy encouraging us to chant his name.  ‘Bee – Nee.  Come on, say it with me now. Bee – Nee!’

All of this was unrelenting, awkward, and undeniably hilarious.

The premise neatly unfolds through these set pieces.  All of us have a ticket to Eutopia, a ‘100% recycled, 100% green’ paradise island where we’re to stay for six months, in exchange for a little hard work.

As we’re finally led into the ‘boat’ that Park Hill Estate has become, all isn’t as it seems.  One of the gap year girls starts to have doubts and it looks like we have a stowaway searching for her mysteriously disappeared boyfriend.

When we collectively stumble into a restricted zone, things take a definite turn for the weird.  Pale, sickly creatures occupy the corridor’s nooks and crannies, and notes start being passed that warn of ‘choke’and the evils of Odyssey, the company that runs Eutopia.

For the claustrophobic amongst us (or those of us with an overactive imagination) this could stray into the ‘genuinely terrifying’ category of experience.

We persevere, hit the hospital, and are instructed to put masks on while we peruse plastic covered patients.1 Yes, working on Eutopia has some unexpected side effects.

The mystery unfolds in grand scale upon the green at the centre of the estate, with dancing, drumming, and some creative abseiling.  Joe, also known as ‘the disappearing boyfriend’ has turned Eutopia into a tax haven and is naturally exploiting the recycling workers during the process.  Joe’s long lost girlfriend leads the revolt and claims back the island.  Pete feels this is all getting a little preachy.  I’m willing to take it with a pinch of salt.

Having been thanked as we leave by a row of 250 participants, we jog on down the hill and conclude the following:  The improvisation of these young actors has been skilful in the extreme, the journey was as emotionally affecting as any top bar piece of theatre, and the setting of course was both weird and fantastic.

Another win for creative innovation in Sheffield.  And all for free.

Incidentally this was the first time I’ve ever been fake vommed on during a performance, which added an unusual bit of spice I’m sure.

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