"Go play spies with them"
by Owen Kingston for remotegoat on 20/08/18

Around 15 minutes into Lamplighters, I am offered a bribe. Delivered in a brown envelope courtesy of a fellow audience member, I read the paper contained within and know that at some point in the next hour I'm going to be called on to say a line that will send the show shooting off in an unexpected direction. My heart is racing. I memorise my line, and my mysterious cue, and fold up the envelope. Did anyone else see? I feel as shifty as Peter Guillam stealing files from the Circus registry. I am living my best life.

For those unfamiliar with the work of John Le Carre, at first Lamplighters may seem a little baffling. Le Carre is the author of some of the very best spy fiction the world has ever seen, but is nevertheless not as well known as Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, and consequently Le Carre's world of 'the Circus' (his pet name for Mi6), and all the jargon that goes with it, may initially be a little intimidating.

But the charismatic Neil Connonlly, our solo guide through this one man show, does an excellent job of introducing his audience to both the content and the flavour of Le Carre's universe.

Lamplighters is a self-described pastiche of Le Carre's work, and the humour is self-evident from the start. For hardcore fans of Punchdrunk and other 'immersive' companies whose work has a more serious, grand and gothic flavour, this may at first seem a little odd, but immersive theatre is long overdue a foray into the comedic, and Neil Connonlly's excellent stand-up style facilitation is fun and engaging from the start. This is interactive comedy done very, very well.

The love of Le Carre's work is evident throughout, but the show does not become a shrine to the man's genius, neither does it refrain from slaughtering a few holy cows. Lamplighters is essentially a very well constructed improvisational structure, based on common elements of structure from Le Carre's work, that allows a completely unique story to be told in collaboration with the audience each night, but that follows essentially the same Le Carre-style pattern each time. No one in the audience is forced to participate in any way, and sitting back and enjoying the ride is entirely possible and indeed actively encouraged. However, the story is developed through a series of participatory games which the audience are invited to throw themselves into, and which are a whole heap of fun to get embroiled in. Throughout, the flavour of Le Carre's writing shines through in the best possible way. Through actively participating in the development of the narrative, the audience find themselves complicit in Le Carre's cloak and dagger world, as though they were playing spies with the great man himself.

The effect showcases what 'immersive' performance does best - by placing you on the inside of the narrative, actively participating in it, you experience far greater empathy with the characters of the story than you would sitting outside of it. While Lamplighters is in many ways an invitation to participate in some silly fun and games, at the heart of the show are high-stakes stories about people risking their lives in games of life and death. Lamplighters distils the essence of this world and communicates it playfully to the audience, but the opportunity to interact with the story in this way provides a visceral heart-pounding experience, even in the midst of a riot of laughter, that ensures the serious subject matter always remains lurking in the background and can never be entirely excorsised by comedy.

Lamplighters sits comfortably in the overlap between standup comedy, immersive/interactive theatre and literary adaptation. It takes the very best of all three things, and fuses them together into a highly enjoyable rollercoaster of a show. Neil Connolly and director Dean Rodgers have created a beautiful little jewel which should equally delight hardcore Le Carre fans and those who have never heard of him. The real star of the show, however, is the structure. Neil Connolly makes the whole thing seem effortless, but there are a great many minute moving parts here which have been lovingly crafted and fitted together by two of the most brilliant minds working in interactive performance today. Above all, this is a tour-de-force of interactive theatre at it's very best. Don't miss the opportunity to go and play spies.

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