SPID theatre presents iAm

photo courtesy of SPID theatre

SPID theatre was started in 1999 by writer Helena Thompson. She was joined in 2003 by director Rachel Grunwald. In 2005 they found a home for SPID; abandoned community rooms at the centre of Kensal House estate in West London. After some TLC, these “mouldy, flooded and boarded up” rooms soon became the estate’s local theatre space providing workshops and directing shows with local acting talent. SPID has it’s neighbourhood at it’s heart, and since taking residence at Kensal house, it has grown into something so integrally local – see SPID’s ‘vision’. Their popularity, variety and breadth of ventures seem to grow with each year. As part of it’s theatre by-and-for-the-community, SPID (which is also a registered charity) delivers a variety of workshops to young people up to the age of 25, and continues to produce new and engaging performances showcasing impressive writing and acting talent. It’s most recent local project was ‘Kensal Voices’, in collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Twentieth Century Society which involved young people taking part in workshops of their choice spanning journalism, design, multimedia, film, drama, music and architecture with professionals in these industries. These workshops were all geared towards exploring the history of the Kensal House council estate and it’s residents.

Excitingly, SPID theatre has recently won the £50,000 Clore prize to develop their youth and heritage work. The prize will fund their next local project which will focus on the eye-catching Trellick tower and it’s residents in West London. To find out more watch this video.

SPID theatre are inclusive in more ways than working with talent in the local area. Their shows demand audience participation. Whether it’s by sneaking around behind characters in “Open House”, playing games in a park in “Childsplay”, or taking control of a human in their most recent production “iAm”, SPID doesn’t give the audience a chance to sit back and relax, but uses them as an integral part of their shows. This October iAm was back on stage after touring the show in 2013.

Humans and technology. The theme of iAm is certainly not a new one, but I was intrigued as to how they would turn it into an immersive piece of site specific theatre at Kensal House. iAm forced the audience to explore their relationship with technology by giving them a platform on which to interact and build a relationship with iAms, which were essentially robots in human form, or in the company’s words “discarded humans unable to form independent thought”.

The show began with the audience being asked to sit in a cosy waiting area with free wine to hand. After individually assessing our morals in tiny rooms using multiple choice questions, a company representative separated us into three groups based on our answers and led us into a large hall. We introduced ourselves to each other in the group, and then the iAm project was explained to us. We were all there as part of a focus group to give our feedback on the “products”. The products then entered the room. Three blank faces walked in and stood still, facing us.

Each group was given an iAm. We then named, dressed and chose an accent for each of the iAms, using a simple command. We learnt to use our iAms, firstly by getting them to perform silly tasks of our choice. Amongst them were yoga poses, street dancing, and kissing the other iAms. Then a competent element was added, and the iAms competed against one another in three games which made the teams bond with their iAms. It quickly became obvious how important language is when someone listens to something exactly-as-you-say-it. These human iPads were unable to infer and had to be taken through each step of their actions. This culminated into a fiercely hilarious competition between the teams.

At the end of the show the teams were asked to reset their iAms so that they would go back to how they were at the start of the show; fresh out the box. Two of the three groups refused. The company representative said this was because the teams had grown an emotional attachment to their iAms. This was the obvious message of the piece all along, but presented in a sly, fun and self-exploratory style. The iAms were merely reflections of our commands; machines with human substance, meaning, and affection inserted.

iAm held up a mirror to our culture’s excessive emotional attachments to digital media, much like the Tv programme Black Mirror did. But unlike Charlie Brooker’s mini-series, iAm echoes this with a bit more tongue-in-cheek, making it accessible to all ages. The iAm actors’ ability to stay in character was flawless.This playful, participatory piece truly forces the public to face their attachment with the digital world using three very talented and commendable actors as the stars of the show.

4 / 5 stars