1 October 2004
You Are Here

Experimenting is what Reactor, the Nottingham based art collective are all about. Their one – off night as part of the You are Here Festival continued this process. Having interacted at/experienced several of their event s at Reactor Towers as well as the Toy and Dismantle events at the Angel Row, we were curious to see how their mix of familiar jokes and audience manipulations would translate to the space of the Rescue Rooms.

What followed was a night of surreal, sometimes obscure moments that focused mainly on comedy. That Reactor enjoyment of dressing up and playing games worked well with the variety show/vaudeville feel of the event. Playacting mixed with artistic imagination as the characters were introduced one by on e to the stage after their ‘live’ arrival in limousines. Due to technical problems or something else we had to wait a long time for the show to start and were slightly demented by the time the show started, by the repeated film intro on screen. As with previous events, Reactor tried to create its own world complete with theories and language. This took time to develop but worked well at some points with surreal narratives and characters being woven around each other. Where else would you find three horse brothers, the Russian Communist regime and My Little Pony linked together? The experience of watching these moments is like falling asleep in front of children’s TV and waking up in front of a surrealist European art house production with blurred subtitles. This playful sense of disorder was one of the strongest aspects of the event. The show’s strength also lay in the comedy between different characters. The exchange between Bob Hope and his mini – me little puppet Bob Hope was the funniest thing we’d seen fro m the evening’s host. Also enjoyable were the interactions between the mad, bossy professor and his downtrodden assistant Beaker.

As with other Reactor events, the pace and energy of the show varied. There were intriguing hints of themes that were never fully explained, but that was also part of the fun of it all. Watching the series of events on stage was different to exploring the varied spaces of Reactor Towers, but audience participation was definitely part of the evening’s entertainment. A quiz (complete with qualifying badminton game, bizarre buzzers and glamorous assistant) provided more sly humour and a chance for the audience to win prizes. There seemed to be a bit of a conflict between trying to get us to join in with the show and just letting us sit there and watch it. This meant that when the time did come for them to round people up to go on stage, it took some time. Also not many people were ready to get interactive! Visually the experience was a weird mix of high – tech (‘live’ feeds of characters approaching the venue) and the homemade (papier mache and school play style painted stage sets).

Red Rooms Razzamatazz was an entertaining experiment – experience – extravaganza, which aimed to bring panto and art together. At many points it felt more focused on comedy than anything else. The use of familiar and iconic characters like the Muppets and My Little Pony suggested that Reactor were aiming to reach a certain generation and audience. In a more conventional ‘stage’ environment there is perhaps less scope for the type of interaction that Reactor events usually facilitate/create, with the audience being enforced into a more passive role by the nature of the space itself. More audience participation from the start would also have shaped the night more powerfully. Whilst the show broke no boundaries, Reactor brought more than a touch of variety to the Rescue Rooms that night.

Camilla Zajac & Matt Davenport