As operative 341, I was issued with phone and kitbag via two “secret” assignations near the river Thames. A series of mostly well co-ordinated phone calls and texts guided me up and down dark slippery steps and in and out of quite creepy rooms. I was, for an hour, a member of a shadowy secret service, led by the faceless Laura and Craig and based in the thousand year old Tower of London. It worked surprising well, except for the few minutes when I lost contact and had to be issued with a replacement phone by one of the silent, bystanding “guards.”
Along the way – as we received and gave out mysterious cards, opened padlocked boxes and watched for suspicious behaviour – there was a lot of information and food for thought. The gunpowder plotters were “radicalised terrorists” to use a term which appears in our 21st century newspapers daily. Or were they the victims of skilled spin doctors determined to make a public example? Parallels and echoes rattle through this piece.
The Tower’s dark, daunting rooms and dramatic battlements make a fine setting to explore such ideas. And as we look across to the glittering centres of power on the South Bank – as Craig advises us and tells us to use the binoculars in the bag – we see a modern reminder of the continuity, democracy and law which keeps us all safe. Or are they just symbols of state control? Some things don’t change.
We listen, maybe four of us at once avoiding eye contact as instructed, to an account of the unspeakably barbaric punishment imposed on Catholic priest Henry Walpole and of course, feel outraged. Then we’re told that to spare even a passing sympathetic thought for a traitor, puts us in breach of the treason law which has stood since the 14th century. And people have always wanted information about us for their own purposes. They still do, Craig observes as he thanks us for participating in the mission. Thousands of people use social networks and give all sorts of organisations permission to use their data every day. The interweaving of past with present is one of this piece’s real strengths.
It’s interesting, thought provoking stuff evocatively spoken by two convincing actors, although we’re given no real names because there’s an illusion to sustain. I also liked the uncredited, vaguely French music in 3:4 time which began and ended the event.
Created by ANAGRAM a Bristol-based creative digital company, Nightwatchers is a commendably imaginative theatrical experience, if not exactly theatre.