Review: Horizontal Collaboration (the Dukes)

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Calling Horizontal Collaboration a failed experiment would be being rather generous, an insipid disaster would be a more frank assessment of the production. It’s undeniably bursting with creative ideas that sadly pretty much all fall flat and fail to invoke even the smallest emotion from the audience.

The premise was intriguing: Four actors, none of whom had seen the script beforehand, play out a complex and twisting tale of power, sex and violence. Well that’s the synopsis I read online, but what was presented to the audience was a rather straightforward narrative that had its moments but seemed more concerned with appearing adult than telling a truly compelling story.

The four actors played four lawyers, sat behind a table for the entire show, reading out interviews and depositions of characters embroiled in the struggle for power. After her African Warlord husband is killed Judith becomes the leader and attempts to make peace for her people facing violence and deception in the process.

The central narrative that is spun could have been interesting if not for the format; none of the story’s events are acted out which leads to some serious audience detachment. You could face away from the stage and miss literally nothing. It’s a radio play (and frankly a rather poor one at that) which has for some bizarre reason been performed on a stage.

The unique selling point is obviously supposed to be the fact that the four actors are reading blind but this actually takes away from the production. They clearly weren’t given the same (or any) direction; three of them read everything in a monotone matter-of-fact voice putting no emotion into the words, perhaps what we would expect from a lawyer. The second lawyer however read out the sections of the story assigned to her as if she was the character speaking, adding emotions and expression.

It got to the point where I smiled when the second lawyer started speaking and groaned when any of the others opened up their mouths. In all honesty I probably would have gotten roughly the same experience if I had just got a copy of the script and asked my flatmates to perform it – that’s not a criticism of the actors rather than the very concept of the production.

In the final third the whole thing was becoming rather stale (it wasn’t exactly fresh at the beginning) and frankly increasingly boring. There was murder and the central power struggle was still chugging along nicely but when a story is told in a way which does not engage the audience present, the content doesn’t really matter. My final realization that Horizontal Collaboration wasn’t going to redeem itself with a spectacular ending came when one of the lawyers started to describe the brutal murder of one of the central characters in the most bored voice possible. In a traditional play this probably would have been an enthralling moment, in this mess of a production it was just another misfire.

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