Review: Dante or Die’s I Do (permutations meet theatre at the Hilton London Docklands Riverside)

Rachel Drazek as the Bride. Photo Ludovic Des Cognets

Rachel Drazek as the Bride. Photo Ludovic Des Cognets

A few years ago I saw a play called Scarborough at the Royal Court Upstairs. The story was set in a hotel and the space was made into a hotel room. In fact there was no seating for the audience: we were sitting wherever we could: at the edge of a sofa or a window seat and the actors were working around us. Not so much around us but through us: we were ducking and diving to get out of their way. Which was all very good practice for Dante Or Die’s I Do, a story playing out in six rooms of a real hotel at the run up to a wedding. The audience, in six separate groups, is led from room to room and witnesses the last fifteen minutes of preparation from all different perspectives.

There is something particularly appealing in being a spectator (or “fly in the wall” as we were encouraged to be) in a familiar yet stressful situation. No leap of faith is needed, we recognise our stories played out. It’s surprising how much of the big day is not about the wedding: everyone has their own story, troubles, interests and preoccupations. Joy and sorrow, the sublime and the ridiculous live side by side, the condensed nature of the experience brings the contrast to the fore.

Set design is another joy: each room tells a different story, objects lying around providing a wealth of information and a vivid backstory. The result is colourful but effortless.

The acting is fluid and naturalistic, with the actors throwing themselves into the adventure of it all. As we are away from a traditional theatre space, the suspension of disbelief is easy, almost dangerous.

The practicalities of the endeavour have their own geeky interest: with six scenes in six rooms, there are 720 possible permutations for seeing the story. Are some of them better than others? Do some make no sense at all? How did the team choose the six permutations used? (Although there are 720 possible ways to see the story, they can’t be used at any combination as no two audience groups can be at the same room at the same time. Can someone with a good math’s brain say how many combinations there are?). Noises and sounds from scenes we have yet to see function like a preview: we put together the pieces of the puzzle eventually.

One last word about the location: if you are used to central London venues, the location seems out of the way, but it brings its own pleasures: the views of the river and Canary Wharf are spectacular.

Performances till 9 March, go on, try it, it’s an adventure.

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