Sat 22nd October 2011


David Taylor

at 22:25 on 22nd Oct 2011



“Why have they all got moustaches?” “Because they wanna be pirates!”

Such is the exchange I hear between two passing teenagers. I’m following a group of the Spotlights through Broadmead, and, yes, all of them are sporting comical pirate moustaches drawn, quite well it has to be said, on their upper lips. This is FLASH; the new flash mob theatre project from the Spotlights, which stages a theatrical performance at a variety of different locations around the city. The group I’m tailing take me from College Green, to the Apple pub, and to the Arts and Social Science Library, to name just a few. As usual with mob theatre the main point of interest is the reaction elicited in the surrounding and unsuspecting members of the public- how long until they realise the person acting oddly right next to them is part of an act? And then what next- will they be amused? Freaked out? Pretend not to notice? Stop everything they’re doing to watch the act through to its end?

A description of the act would be useful. With the location decided upon the group would disperse individually over the area and sit/stand nonchalantly for a while before blowing up a balloon simultaneously. They would then all converge in on a focus point stealthily and slowly, moving in a series of freeze frames, like some bizarre game of grandmother’s footsteps. With all present at the focus point they’d then stand as a group holding a pin up to their balloons, freeze again for another lengthy period of time, before performing a simultaneous pop. They’d then rapidly disperse again over the location, before collectively bursting into song, dancing, clapping, whilst interspersing themselves with members of the public. The culmination of the act consisted of breaking off from song to answer the phone, in the form of a banana which they’d been carrying on their persons for the whole of the performance. Miming a conversation over the phone they’d then pass the receiver over to a now hopefully intrigued and attentive member of the audience, before swiftly exiting the location.

It makes for an interesting afternoon’s viewing to say the least. On a purely performance level there’s a lot to be admired. The mental discipline and timing required to enact all the actions simultaneously is to be commended, particularly in the busier locations when clear sight of other members of the group is impeded and members of the public are constantly moving about them. Quite an ambitious choice for the penultimate performance was Cabot Circus, predictably heaving with shoppers on a mid-Saturday afternoon. With the focus point chosen as a children’s play area down in the middle of the central court, it was difficult spotting all the members of the group even from one of the galleries above; and yet they managed it, the singing still perfectly audible even against the considerable background noise. The singing (Bedouin Soundclash’s ‘When the night feels my song’) incidentally, as I gathered from passers-by, was the most well received part of the act and I must admit the group did sound good in harmony. Enthusiasm, they say, is infectious, and I can’t fault the group for the levels of enthusiasm and confidence they brought to the task. The performances at the different locations moreover were far from mere mirror images of each other; most exploited the immediate environment to good effect; at the Arnolfini location for instance the choice of the narrow bridge across the docks as the focus point meant that when they’d re-assembled as a group for the balloon-popping they occupied half the width of the crossing, thus vastly increasing the degree to which they’d be noticed by passers-by. Again at Cabot, the choice of one group member to freeze whilst going down an escalator was a nice humorous touch.

As mentioned above, it’s the reaction of the audience that proves to be the most interesting, and ultimately most important. The reaction I quoted at the beginning illustrated to me that people will always be polarised in their attitudes to this kind of theatre. But people also have a tendency to miss what’s going on right in front of them until it’s blatantly obvious, and thus the structure of this act, the converging of the members of the group from all different corners of the location on a central point, has the effective sense of appearing as if from nowhere. On a couple of occasions the focus point was alarmingly near one or two individuals, thus creating the sense of being surrounded, but none fortunately seemed overly alarmed. Most memorably, a couple sitting alone at a table outside the Apple pub seemed none too impressed at the gradual approach of six girls sporting fake moustaches and brandishing semi-inflated balloons. At this same location, a table of local lads gets really into the swing of things, joining in with some of the singing and clapping, before things turn slightly nasty when one gets hold of one of the bananas, tears it in two and hurls it to the ground, prompting a swift retreat by the group from the area. The general reaction however is one of amused confusion, then appreciation once the realisation that this is all just an act is reached. It’s certainly also a surreal experience, as one man in particular tells me after the performance in Queen Square, explaining how the member of the group who chose her starting point as the bench seat right next to him failed to respond to any of the questions he posed about why she had a moustache drawn on her face: “I thought she was deaf- or a mentalist.”

Is there ultimately a point to all of this? On one level it’s publicity for the Spotlights: the bananas incorporated in the performance and then handed over to the audience have their name written on them along with cheesy sentiments (“Smile. Somebody somewhere loves you.”) Other than that, perhaps not, but it’s really the last performance of the afternoon that impresses me. The location, audaciously chosen, is the cafeteria of the Arts and Social Sciences Library. The first part of the act gets the puzzled and amused response I’ve seen all afternoon, with no reaction from the library staff at their nearby desks. Once they begin singing however it’s made clear that this is some act of rebellion, as one of the staff comes over trying to make them desist, but is wholly taken aback by this unexpected situation and can do no more than meekly proclaim: “Excuse me - this is a library.” To no avail as the group, as they’ve impressively done all afternoon, respond solely to the demands of the performance and, still singing, slowly caper back out of the library with full theatricality. Here are just some of the reactions I got from those in attendance:

“I was on the other side of the library- I came over because I thought it might have a T Mobile ad”

“That was really good singing”

“It was exciting- the library’s pretty dull most of the time”

Let’s face it, we aren’t watching Shakespeare or Beckett here, but it’s an experience nonetheless that the audiences will remember and share for at least a while, be it with bewilderment, confusion, or pleasure. And again I applaud the entire group for the confidence, enthusiasm, and energy that they’ve brought to this challenging project.


Amelia Little

at 07:23 on 23rd Oct 2011



The problem with reviewing a flash mob is that a flash mob depends on the element of surprise for its audience. Having been given a time and a place, I almost felt nervous, anticipating this surprise act. The first group I saw, however, still maintained the surprise for me. It started with everyone sat on the floor blowing up balloons; they then creeped in unison from different angles to one predetermined point, when there they popped the balloons; by this point they had everyone’s attention. They then proceeded to sing a song whilst swaying between the bemused onlookers. Then they just stopped, produced a banana from their pockets as if it were a phone, then passed it to the nearest audience member saying that the call was for them and then disappeared. The strangeness of the whole act worked incredibly well, a subtle start building until everyone in the vicinity was watching, puzzled. The atmosphere they created was amazing bringing the whole audience in, people stopping on their bikes, children stopping their football games. Everyone was involved. Watching it more than once still didn’t detract from the surrealism, it was amazing to see ho w different people reacted and especially those who were fortunate enough to be included at the end when presented with a banana. It involved many parts, all disjointed from the piece before but this worked: there was no way you could anticipate what was going to come next. It left you thinking: who where they and what were they doing.

I felt the second group didn’t bring the same cards to the table. Their act consisted of an argument where more and more people joined, getting louder and more violent. They then stopped, pulled a pose, and then disappeared into the crowd. Although it maintained its element of surprise and confusion, it was all over a bit too quickly; people weren’t as keen on stopping to watch as the argument that was breaking was escalating making others feel uncomfortable. Once people realised that it was a flash mob the scene had finished and the people involved left. Personally for me it didn’t have the same impact as the first. What is beautiful about a flash mob is the feeling that you are watching something rare, that you somehow ended up in the right place at the right time. This play left you thinking, wait, what?

I wish I could recommend flash theatre to you but it simply cannot be recommended. It’s something you have to stumble upon and enjoy in the moment.


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