When I described Rotozaza’s Wondermart to a friend, his reaction was: “That’s not theatre, that’s creating a public nuisance.” The production continues the company’s work with audio-instructed performance and develops the site-specific element introduced in Etiquette. The site: the ASDA down the road from Battersea Arts Centre.
Participants wired up with headphones and mp3 players are released in pairs into the supermarket, where a voice guides them gently through the aisles towards a playful encounter.
Every effort is made to put potentially nervous participants at their ease, from the reassuring notice in the BAC foyer (“to the people around you shopping at the supermarket you’ll look just like any other shopper”) to the soft, friendly choice of guide voice. Still, it’s sometimes hard to avoid panicky thoughts like, Is this voice going to order me to shoplift, or talk to a stranger, or pay for these random items in my trolley? And will it wreck the preordained choreography of the performance if I refuse?
The head-bendingly precise timing necessary to keep both participants in sync hampers the eventual face-to-face interaction; because every smile and awkward downward glance has to be exhaustively narrated, fleeting glances telescope out into lingering stares, and small actions expand and decelerate into pantomime. But when not mired in minutiae, Wondermart yields some perfectly orchestrated moments, such as when both participants tail each other, mirroring one another’s movements from opposite ends of the same aisle. I defy anyone not to crack a smile when peeping surreptitiously around the end-of-aisle display to find a face peeping surreptitiously back from the other end.
Compared to Rotozaza’s intense GuruGuru, Wondermart is pure whimsy; but it proves that the company aren’t content to coast on the novelty value of audio-instructed autoteatro. It’s still a relatively new form, but far from treating it like a newborn, Rotozaza are relentlessly shaking it about, turning it upside-down and bolting new bits to it like a bunch of theatrical mad scientists. As Aristotle put it: “No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.”