Standing on the concourse of London’s busiest train stations, as late-night commuters sprint to their platforms, may seem like a normal scene. However, it’s not every day this place plays host to a flash mob, assembling to a backing track that only you can hear.
However, as a repeat attender of Wiretapper’s unique brand of audio-based immersive theatre, it wasn’t the first time this had happened to me. Wiretapper is a project by Shunt, known for their intense and confusing interactive shows such as The Boy Who Climbed Out of His Face, which finished with a naked man playing an electric guitar atop a lake of baby dolls. Their first audio project, ‘Monument’, took place in Trafalgar Square and speculated on the threat of spying and the inevitable destruction of civilisation as we know it.
Their latest project, Walk Like Natives – a collaboration between director David Rosenberg and the choreographer Frauke Requardt, stays very much on theme with their previous shows. Audience members purchase their tickets in advance through an app, which then lies dormant until the morning of the show itself. At that point, a notification pops up – “WIRETAPPER – 12 HOURS”, and the secret location of the performance is revealed.
The app is more than just a gimmick, however, as it delivers the audio of the show to each individual audience member through headphones. Using binaural voice recordings and sound effects that seem to come from all around you, Wiretapper has an incredible skill for creating an intimacy between you and a performer standing over 30 metres away.
Walk Like Natives has no explicit story, but is more of a half-hour tribute to dancing like nobody’s watching – especially ironic given the show’s continuous sinister allusions to constant CCTV surveillance over a fake station tannoy in the audio track. We are told to watch a woman in a bright blue beanie as she disco-dances to Daft Punk in front of Platform 10, and soon she is joined by other people who step in time for a number of beats before disappearing back into the crowd.
Over the course of the show, a total cast of six performers who previously seemed just to be audience members don their own beanies and begin to dance to the pop soundtrack in synchronised choreography, grouping together for a verse or a chorus, then rapidly dispersing again.
It dawns on us how difficult it is to tell which of us are performers, which are audience members, and which are just members of the public, who also happen to be wearing unrelated headphones, simply bemused at the silent performance that’s happening in front of them. It is a flash-mob blending into the crowd. It’s very easy to get distracted from the show itself by that suspicion. Who around me also knows what’s going on? Who knows more than I do?
However, the charm of Walk Like Natives is that these questions aren’t posed seriously, but playfully. Unlike other recent audio experiences such as Circumstance’s It Must Have Been Dark By Then or, more notoriously, Punchdrunk’s Kabeiroi, Walk Like Natives does not take itself at all seriously. As the recorded tannoy announcements get darker over the course of the show – “the next train at platform 9 is the delayed service to Death” – the audience simply laughs at them. The whole experience is a pure celebration of joy. Every audience member leaves with a smile on their face and a rhythm in their head.
Although Walk Like Natives has only one additional listed date, its blurb hints that it will one day form a part a longer, more fleshed-out piece of theatre. How much of this simple initial idea will make it into the final product is yet to be seen. Regardless, it’s certain that, however Rosenberg and Requardt develop it, it will be unique, vibrant, and definitely not one to miss.