Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 28 September 2014

Fifth Column

Secret location ⋄ 18th September - 16th November 2014

Spy games.

William Drew

The Fifth Column experience starts as soon as you book your ticket. You receive an e­mail telling you that you’ve been recruited to a secret mission and a video to watch. The video features an ex-employee of RBS telling you about his friend and colleague who has disappeared.

Your mission is to uncover the truth behind the high level conspiracy this man uncovered. You are given a centrally located meeting point, a number to text and a code. When you arrive on location, you are placed in a small team and given equipment: a radio with an earpiece, a suitcase and a dictaphone. The former will allow you to stay in touch with mission control while the second gives you directions.

Off you go into the unknown, trying to look inconspicuous, which is slightly challenging when you have a big ear piece in and a dictaphone you’re all huddled around. You’re being followed. At this point, you’re not sure why but there’s a fun game to be played in trying to identify other teams (some had split up and were doing a much better job than us at blending in). The aim is to get to the bag drop location, which is in an appropriately sordid looking underpass. I followed our instructions dutifully though I didn’t fully understand why we were doing this. As soon as we’re told to run, we do so without questioning why we’re doing this. Just in the act of asking us to follow these instructions, Fifth Column opens up some interesting and pertinent questions about agency and obedience.

When we arrive at a pub for what turns out to be the interval, unsure at first whether we should be actually ordering a drink or just pretending to, we encounter an actor who tells us to stop looking for her John, the man in the first video who turns out to be her husband. We could choose to obey her and go home. She seems as trustworthy as anyone else we’ve met but we get a message from mission control again telling us to find directions by using an Augmented Reality app on a business card left in the pub by the mysterious organisation we’re tailing. It’s an awesome high-tech moment but feels conspicuous because the augmented reality element isn’t integrated throughout the adventure. Ultimately, this is simply a more stylish way of getting directions: something the dictaphone’s been doing perfectly well in its charmingly low­tech way up to now.

Finally, we get to the final confrontation between the two central characters and a twist in the tail. Unfortunately, the dribs and drabs of narrative we’ve received up to this point aren’t quite enough to make us feel emotionally invested in this grand finale. The performers are acting their socks off but the transition between active participant to passive audience hasn’t been modulated sufficiently so the audience feel uneasy and snigger a little. They are still in play mode. At the last minute, an audience member rushes in to affect the outcome of the action. It was a thrilling moment because it felt like it wasn’t supposed to happen.

Despite what feels like a number of compromises the production has had to make and some missed notes dramatically, it’s impossible not to admire the ambition of CoLab’s first production. While the whole might not come off entirely successfully, it is nevertheless an exciting, active, sociable experience and one from which this young company will learn a huge amount.


William Drew

William Drew is a writer, narrative designer and dramaturg based in Brighton. He makes work at the intersection between live performance and gaming as Venice as a Dolphin and a Coney Associate. He is Associate Dramaturg of New Perspectives in Nottingham. He spent several years working in the Royal Court Theatre’s International and Literary Departments and has been a script reader for the National Theatre, Hampstead and Traverse Theatres. You can find out more about his work here:

Fifth Column Show Info

Produced by CoLab

Directed by Bertie Watkins

Written by Bertie Watkins




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