On April 5th, The Wind-up Collective performed an immersive piece of theatre, Box Junction, at Camden People’s Theatre. The play is set on a train, where the audience sit amongst the players. This review combines thoughts on Box Junction with thoughts on another train, where I inevitably found myself that night, alone amongst the other tube-riders.
The night is over and I’m on the tube, bound towards home. I am listening to music through miniature speakers, ergonomically designed to fit an ear. The world before me takes an offbeat hue, coloured by the music I’m listening to. I look around. Six people sit opposite, four of whom have headphones. Like mine, they are all designed for ear-insertion, to simultaneously block out unwanted noise and deliver instead a noise chosen by careful selection from a music playing gadget. We are connected solely by this isolating practice.
No man is an island said John Donne. If only he was. Indeed he tries to be. In fact we attempt to make small planets of ourselves with our own self-centres of gravity. From there we try to control the amount of traffic threatening to burst though our atmospheres, only to land on us and steal our resources. We cut off the realm beyond with earphones and faces so impenetrably stern that only a fool would broach them.
My protective coat of music is brutally pierced and ripped by a young drunk woman, one of a group of young drunk women who are attempting to keep balance as they stand at the end of the carriage. She gesticulates with lunges, her whole body used to emphasise whatever point she is making. Her shrieks break through my blanket of musical security when the song takes a dramatic step back into a more solemn, quiet moment. The faces of those sitting in front of me are despondent and glossed over. The tube is an inescapable necessity which delivers them home; it doesn’t really count as a part of their life. But the drunk woman is addressing them, addressing us, addressing me.
I look up and half remove one of the two headphones. ‘I want to sit down,’ she says – ‘Oh,’ I reply. With callous indifference, I replace my headphone and throw a knowing glance at the man opposite, victorious. My song ends and in the gap before the next one I get an idea of what’s driving the passions of the young drunk woman: ‘1,2,3,4,5,6… Twelve men! And none of them stand up to let me sit down!’ The imminent critique of her observation was no less than a biting indictment of contemporary western society. Yes, as we demonstrate, the chivalric construct of the civilised gent has fallen beneath the rug of history, as has, as she succinctly demonstrates with her language and exposed arse cheeks, the corresponding construct of the dignified lady. To whom do we mourn, I wonder?
In unison, everyone in the carriage who has music playing in their ears racks up the volume. Once again we are alone. But this isolation we willingly force upon ourselves is not enough, for soon we realise that it is ourselves we find ourselves alone with. If there’s anything worse than other people’s company, it’s our own company. The problem with ourselves is that we internalise the baggage handed to us by the baggage handler of society, and we’re not content until this baggage has been categorised and safely compartmentalised in an appropriate manner which makes this baggage understandable. Until then, the outside world keeps on bugging us. Problem is, this process never ends.
So while drunken social critic woman concerns herself with the end of recognisable civilisation, epitomised by her inability to find a seat, I have my own issues. Right now I am seething over the audacity that the pub – the Bree Louise – had to charge me £4.50 for a Kronenbourg, the most middle-of-the-range beers, and then to imply that I was somehow out of place in questioning this. Not ‘London prices,”rising inflation,’ nor a ‘need to lower the deficit’ will suffice to excuse this particular scandal. I was cheated, and it ground away at me deep within.
Yep, we all have problems. And this reminded me of the tube ride I had taken earlier on this night, somewhere between Camden and Warren Street. Twenty or so people boarded an innocuous train in Camden People’s Theatre, after being invited on by a small group of choreographed commuters. I’ve been on this train before, I thought, twice perhaps. The first trip etched a mere scratch in the theatrical landscape compared to the cavern carved out by this journey. It was confusing and disorientating, ad libbed and full of primal urges. The second trip had all the urges, now under a small amount of control and slipped in between poetic moments of reflection. This third trip has moved on again, and become a more mature accomplishment. It’s as if we’ve gone from tram, to tube, to steam engine, on the quality scale.
We sit anonymously on the train and the same old eyes wander and glaze over, as is customary on public transport. But into this banality erupts self-doubt, self-conscious sexual urges, rejection, domination, paranoia, exclusion, and liberation. Innocent passengers might find themselves victims of these outbursts; the rest watch on with a mix of amusement and anticipation. The resident busker/minstrel picks on the unfortunate characters until he gets whipped up in the story himself.
Now it’s grown up, Box Junction needs to be taken a bit more seriously. It might need to package its polemic slightly differently, more subtly perhaps, or more succinctly, to avoid implicating the unfortunate commuters of this world who have no control over the fragile and pathetic situation that has been bestowed upon them. And what about the fact that the creatures you come across on the tube are far more feral than anything dramatised in theatre? Immersion in reality is where the real confusion starts. Box Junction makes you think, though, about these places that are so banal so as to ordinarily escape our attention, but which seem to epitomise our condition and somehow expose a brutal truth about us. At which point are we most real I wonder: around the dinner table with our family, or squeezed into a tunnelling worm under the city, pressed into an armpit?