Charlie Victor Romeo
Tense slice of cockpit-set verbatim theatre
This article is from 2008.
The cockpit of an aeroplane is one of those intriguing but concealed nooks – like the vestry of a church or the wings of a theatre – generally forbidden to lay people, but which provide endless fodder for the imagination. What exactly is going on behind that closed door? As this theatrical documentary from New York's Collective: Unconscious brings to light, the tiny enclosed space at the front of a plane can be the scene of some incredibly tense real-life drama.
Created entirely from the black box transcripts of six airline emergencies, much of the dramatic tension that arises from these situations comes from the awareness that disaster is imminent, but not knowing when or how. As each emergency is caused by different factors, all six sequences feature their own self-contained narrative arcs. The account of the Simmons Airlines flight, for instance, lures the audience into a false sense of security as the pilot and co-pilot chat casually about their plans for the weekend. Suddenly the emergency arises, and there's a sickening jolt at the swiftness and totality of the disaster.
Other emergencies, such as the one that takes place aboard an AeroPeru Airlines Flight, are painfully drawn-out, causing everyone in the room to move forward inch-by-inch in their seats, nails chewed to the quick as they await the outcome, the banal statistics about fatalities flashed up on the monitors between sequences. Meanwhile, the military flight ambushed by missiles is horribly swift and frantic.
It all makes for compelling viewing, though there's a niggling doubt throughout that there's much to the impact of this show other than audience titilation. What purpose is served by serving up, literally, hundreds of freak fatalities for our entertainment? Another slight problem here is the spatial arrangement: the piece would perhaps have been more effective in the round, with the audience closer to the action, rather than stuck at the back of the lengthy Cow Barn auditorium. For the maximum impact of this show, arrive early and bag a seat near the front.
Udderbelly's Pasture, 0844 545 8252, until 25 Aug (not 12), 7.40pm, £12–£14.50 (£10.50–£13).