Review: 100% London, Hackney Empire
We’ve all seen those statistical reports about the current opinion of Londoners in magazines and papers. They’re quoted in government reports, and slowly filtered down so that they become throwaway stats that we use every day. With 7.8 million inhabitants in London, it can often feel like your voice is lost in the throng of people, but in Rimini Protokoll’s 100% London as part of LIFT Festival, those represented in black and white statistics are brought to the stage in glorious technicolour. Putting faces to the 7.8 million, 100 inhibitants of London create a shifting stage of statistics on everything from politics to religious beliefs and concerns about the Olympics in this 90-minute tour de force of numbers at Hackney Empire.
It is perhaps a fitting theatre for 100% London to take part within. Hackney Empire, built with the community at its heart, recently reopened and is now sitting proudly as a beacon of East London. The project, which sees 100 Londoners taking to the stage to form a living, breathing representation of the shifting inhabitants of London, mostly recruited through a chain of people recommending the next. Fitting a series of demographics so that everyone from a few weeks old to seventy and above, of all ethnic backgrounds and locations, is included. The premise being that 100% London represents that varied demographics of London itself.
Split into several presentations, the participants of the project first introduce themselves one by one, with anecdotes on their lives and how they came to be part of the work. We meet everyone from teenagers to the elderly, all representing the varied personalities and faces that we see on the street. Some of the participants have more memorable personalities than others, especially as we are introduced to all 100 of them one by one, which becomes somewhat of a blur towards the seventies mark. Some of the cast are given specific lines to read fed to them by an autocue, whilst others clearly freestyle to their hearts content. After the introductions it’s straight to breaking the group up based on their opinions. Everything from “have you ever shop lifted?” to “do your recycle at home?” is asked, and the cast move from one side of the stage to another to represent their answers. This continuous shifting body of people is captured by a camera above and projected so that we see by the number of heads how popular one answer is to another. The methods for answering changes through time, one moment an anonymous vote is cast where the lights are dimmed and phones are used to signal a vote.
Whilst impressive in parts (having a mass of 100 participants on the stage is always a great sight to behold, especially when some of the answers given are surprising), this doesn’t feel like a performance. The concept is great, and the execution at times reflects this, but ultimately it falls upon the participants to bring out the stories and personalities of London. They seep through, or from certain people are shouted and made proud, but equally there are many stories and opinions that get lost in the large group, and it’s a shame. As an experiment it’s worth seeing, but as a piece of theatre it feels too formulaic; less like a performance and more a live movable pie chart.