From the advertising material, you’d be forgiven for believing that Slumber is a choose-your-own-adventure murder circus. Buyer beware: this show does not deliver what it sells on the label.
Slumber had no sense of balance. The narrative was stodgy, the ratio between skill and stage time was uneven, and it all relied, “fingers crossed!”, on the ability of Lee Hubilla, Lee the murderer, to engage with the audience.
The performers were anticipating an enthusiastic rabble of a crowd, a call and response of “Death! Death!” as each deserving foe met their sticky end. But to get the response, first you have to have an answerable call.
Rigidly, the performers stuck to the formula that worked back home, waiting for cheers and whoops in answer to the repeated, shrieked question “Who likes cake?”
“In America, we like cake,” sulked Habilla. She was not able, or willing, to adapt her performance to suit the audience. She popped out on stage between each scene as the curtain swung closed behind her. At the time, it seemed like she was attempting to distract us while sets were changed behind the curtain. However, on reflection, her goal may have been to ask us which friend she should slaughter next.
But, what does cake have to do with anything? If you wanted us to tell you who to pick next, why didn’t you just ask? Unfortunately even that approach would not have worked, as none of the characters had names, so how were we to nominate our choice?
The best audience-participation theatre should stand on its own, and be enhanced by whatever the crowd is willing to give. Clearly, Slumber was unhinged without the anticipated support of the crowd. The show blundered on, but the audience was restless. The atmosphere was suffocating under an ever-accumulating layer of question marks. “Why?” we were all asking. “What is going on?”
There was no sympathy for Habilla, whose character was irritating and abrasive. Her handful of (dead) friends were equally unlikeable – the pushy drug addict (Elli Huber), the sleazy pole guy (Joren Dawson) – or just badly drawn – the contortionist (Samantha Smith) was silently angry, while the dancers (Bokyung Park and Lisa Sainvi) seemed simply to be having a great time in each other’s company.
Only two mesmerising and well-staged moments spare Slumber from the scrap heap: the first was Huber’s trapeze act in a drug fugue, smearing her coke-bloodied nose across her cheek while being swept up stage by her ankles. The second, and most outstanding, was the contortionist’s haunting, horrifying, beautiful post-murder dance. There’s something about being able to scuttle crab-like among her own limbs that perfectly aligned Smith with her “spirit of the damned” solo performance.
With better direction, a clear script and a readjustment of the lighting (most of the aerial work was obscured by fog and spotlights), Slumber has hope. But for now, no, we don’t want any cake, and please, Lee, leave your friends alone.
Hideaway Circus performed Slumber at the Royal Croquet Club (Menagerie) on Friday, 24 February 2017, and continues until Sunday, March 19.