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Thursday, 3 June 2010

DITCH any other plans and head to the Old Vic tunnels

A dead hare hung from the ceiling to greet the audience as they entered.

We entered through a small unsteady door, the space was immediately dark and the air was damp. I felt and heard the resounding heartbeat of the Waterloo trains above.

Strings were stretched across areas of the tunnels.

Ditch is certainly a surreal experience, every moment more surprising than the last right up until the final, painfully bitter moments of the play. It is performed in Tunnel 228, a once functional train tunnel beneath Waterloo station.

An inventive cage: part of the installation.

The production, which is a fusion of art and theatre, begins as an installation that you must walk through to reach your seat. Sinister clues are displayed against harsh lighting, for example a dead hare hanging above a pool of blood. It's not clear if the haunting symbols are something intended by writer, Beth Steel or if the production team decided on it themselves, either way they set the scene very powerfully. Once you've walked through these shadowy tableaux you reach a small makeshift theatre space.

A dissected hanging tree: part of the installation.

Despite the cold hostile environment, we were kept snug in our seats with cosy complimentary blankets. The play itself was relentless, set in a dystopian future. We watch a group of 'fascist strongmen'; there purpose is to catch the illegals they find on the moors. They are tended to by two women, powerless and lost within a world of aggressive men. The narrative of Beth Steel's play is a little confusing at the start but the cast's flawless acting is convincing enough to carry one along. The six characters loosely pair up - the lovers, the friends, the elders. Their prospects are bleak, and yet through the whiskey-fuelled action there are moments of hope amongst the despair and eventual doom. A glimpse of romance adds a little compassion to the story and allows the audience to sympathise. The juxtaposition of these tender feelings against the harsh reality of this dwindling civilisation is engaging and Richard Twyman's direction emphasises this further.

The quirky bar, designed by Junk & Gems and Hendzel & Hunt.

Of the six actors, Dearbhla Molloy, who played the role of Mrs Peel, was most impressive. Her gritty depiction of this older woman was consistently moving despite the brutal nature of the part. Throughout the show the sound effects blend with the disturbing rumbling trains above, a constant reminder of one's location. I thoroughly enjoyed both the play (which is playwright Beth Steel's first) and the atmospheric environment. With £12 ticket offers there is no reason to miss out on this other worldly experience.

We excited through a graffiti filled subway, which was suprisingly beautiful.

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