Wondermart

Wondermart continues Rotozaza’s work with audio-instructed performance and develops the site-specific element introduced in Etiquette.

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.”

Comments

5 comments. Add your own »

  1. Simon Hicks says:

    Wondermart was the first Rotozaza production that I’ve experienced, so I had little idea what to expect. Initially I was concerned that the conspicuous headphones made me stand out, but I quickly realised how little notice people take of each other in London, especially when they’re intent on shopping. Once inside, performing my first shopping task to music set me at ease, and I felt increasingly able to submit to the voice’s instructions.

    I had a similar experience when it came to performing activities in sync with my fellow participant, but this was something that I’d never experienced as part of an audio-guided theatre piece and it’s this aspect that I will remember most about the work.

    Convinced as I was that I was about to be told to attempt a shoplift (“but today you’re going to do something different…”) it was hilarious when the other participant had clearly been told to place all the items they hadn’t yet returned to the shelves into my trolley and, without advice from the voice, I was powerless to resist!

    I’d be interested to know if Rotozaza had told Asda what they were planning to do. It would be a testament to the piece if we’d looked so much like normal shoppers that the CCTV teams, mentioned by the voice, didn’t notice us…

  2. Sounds like you were an ‘A’ like me, Simon – it’d be interesting to hear comments from someone playing the ‘B’ character, which struck me as less nervous and more mischievous than ‘A’, and so I imagine would have provided a bit of a different experience.

  3. I’d be interested to know whether any participants in this piece had interactions with the ‘general public’. Also after the event, when you were back shopping at your local supermarkets, did you carry anything from the Wondermart experience with you, and if so did it triggered any thoughts or reactions on the nature of shopping in general?

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  1. [...] companies are building on the foundations Rotozaza have laid – including Rotozaza themselves, whose Wondermart sends participants out of the theatre and into the local supermarket.  Swedish practitioners [...]

  2. gosser says:

    gosser…

    “[...]Review – Wondermart | London Theatre Blog[...]“…

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Info and Credits

Wondermart is on at the BAC until the 23rd of May 2009.

Visit the Rotozaza website for more information about current performances of Wondermart and other productions.

Cover photo by Ant Hampton.

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