As the title suggests, this is the fourth Beta Public, an event described as merging “the coolest and strangest things about performance and video games”. The whole event has a distinctly laid-back vibe, organisers and performers chatting casually and joining in on the fun.
Part 1 is a series of interactive games with a difference – a virtual climbing wall controlled by a giant duct-tape keyboard, laptops dotted around the room (including one with virtual reality goggles!). The crowd wanders around, conversing, laughing and sipping from their beers as they take in the activities on offer, all of which have a vintage, home-grown feel.
The theme for the event is ‘sprint’, based on the ongoing Spring Festival at Camden People’s Theatre, and this is something which is brought to the forefront in the performance section of the evening. Hannah Nicklin’s Equations For A Moving Body is by far and away the highlight of the night, an outstanding combination of simple technology and story-telling. The performance takes the form of a series of stories in answer to prompts on index cards, all revolving around the Iron Man Nicklin is preparing for. Equations For A Moving Body is a personal journey through sport. It is a story of childhood, of superpowers, of friendship and of psychogeographical discovery. It explores memory, music, and man vs. nature – and, ultimately, the psychology of challenging yourself. In Describe A Swimming Stroke Nicklin’s language is rhythmic, echoing the rhythm of swimming, the energy of it. The language feels physical, paralleled by her movements on stage.
In Falling Nicklin sits, silently scrolling through tabs and data. The silence and simplicity is heart-breaking, perfectly exemplifying the loss she has felt. We sit, breath held in sympathy, as the timer ticks through the seconds, and no speech is needed. The final piece – The Hardest Endurance Event You’ve Ever Done – returns to the topic of loss, this time exploring it through speech. There are tears, and there is laughter. As Nicklin says, this feels “honest”. At one point she discusses the psychology of creating yourself through story, the story of your sporting achievements and goals. Equations For A Moving Body feels like that. It feels like watching Nicklin create herself in front of us, and, as she does so, creating a part of ourselves too.
William Drew’s rehearsed reading is up next, discussing the virtual memorialisation of dead friends through their social media accounts. How long, he asks, will it take for the dead to outnumber the living online? Although this is clearly a very new piece, and needs some polishing – there are points when it feels more like a friend reciting a long story than a piece of performance – there are moments of brilliance here, moments of anger, questioning, and the chilling realisation that we are all surrounded by ghosts.
Tassos Stevens’ work returns much more fully to the video games aspect of the evening. We become part of a video game, the audience as a whole enacting the part of ‘Sally’, making choices in her name. “The stronger the choices you make the more choices you get”, we are told, and although no world-building information is given, the whole thing has a distinctly sinister air. Stevens responds to the audience’s suggestions and quips with a Jack Dee-esque deadpan, providing much of the humour of the piece. Run Sally Run is, we are told, very new, having only been written that day, and this is evident in both elements of repetitiveness and the technical glitches. However, it is an immersive, fun-filled piece, and one not to be underestimated if it returns in a more complete form in the future.
Beta Public is an event which, in our increasingly technologized world, explores the boundaries between game and performance, between screen and audience. A new theme each event allows them to keep it fresh and new, delving into new issues and questions. Although still relatively in its infancy Beta Public is definitely one to watch as theatre expands its horizons in the coming years.