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Review: Crisis? What Crisis? (New Diorama Theatre)

I mean, wow. It’s not everyday you’ve got Ken Clarke on the phone, apologising profusely for your friends’ attempts to coax him out for a night on the town, in what can only be described as an unfruitful, but mildly ingenious, effort to make him miss the vote of no confidence. In the end, cutting tobacco duty got him onside.

That gives you an idea of the breadth of options available to you, and your fellow comrades, as you attempt to snatch Callaghan’s Labour government from the mouth of defeat. It’s 1979, the Winter of Discontent is upon us, the unions are striking, civil unrest is mounting, and Labour face an uphill battle to keep a grip on power. We know what really happened in 1979, but this is your chance to rewrite history. What if Broughton had made it into parliament? What if you could strike a sweeter deal with the Trade Unions? What if you could convince married Tory MPs to miss the vote in favour of an evening in Soho? What if the army got involved and started a coup? How far would you go to stop Thatcher? For my group, pretty far as it turned out. But that’s the beauty of Crisis? What Crisis?, each evening an entirely new storyline plays out, and all the decisions are made by you.

The setting is glorious, an office block adorned with beautiful old Labour posters, a fax machine (which older audience members had to help me with, oh how the technological tables turned), an old TV, a radio, an orange furniture set, stacks of folders, desks, a bar, charts on the walls, old rotary dial telephones; it is so easy to believe you’ve stepped back to the late 70s. The acting too, is impeccable, and the depth of their knowledge of the subject area is to be commended. It’s one thing to know the history of the time, but it’s quite another to know it well enough to improvise with eager members of the public in order to come up with exciting policy changes in real time. The opportunities to get involved are everywhere, a phone call here, a policy decision there, an interview on the radio here, a powwow with a trade union leader there, truly there is always something you can be doing. This is perhaps the most exciting part of the evening; if you’re up for the task, there is quite simply never a dull moment.

One minute I’m checking in with another audience member to see what pay rise they’re willing to offer the Unions, the next I’ve got the French embassy on the phone pleading for their help in staving off a military coup d’etat. It is painstakingly detailed, and, importantly, cracking good fun. The tension ramps up delectably, and it becomes impossible not to be caught up in the fraught and frenetic energy of the actors who seem to genuinely be wrought by the consequences of the evening. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d traveled back in time and were truly making history-altering decisions, and this is a testament to the excellent set design and complete commitment of the wonderful actors.

If someone asks what five star immersive theatre is like, send them to this show and they’ll find out. Crisis? What Crisis? is on at the New Diorama Theatre in London until the 28th August. For more information, and tickets, click here.

Parabolic Theatre

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