Reviews West End & Central Published 21 May 2018

Review: Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) at the Barbican

15 - 19 May 2018

‘This is a show, and we are living through it together’: Brendan Macdonald reviews Split Britches’s Kubrick-inspired performance.

Brendan Macdonald
Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) at the Barbican. Photo: Theo Cote

Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) at the Barbican. Photo: Theo Cote

We don’t have much time left, so what should we do with it?

For Split Britches, the theatrical duo known for their satirical, camp, and thought-provoking pieces, the answer is mocking up a Kubrick classic and unearthing hidden desires. All things considered, it’s a pretty good answer.

Heavily inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove (1964), Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) takes place in the ‘situation room’, with Lois Weaver as Madam President and Peggy Shaw as the bumbling and highly ineffectual General. Amidst a meditation on unexploded ordnances, those wartime explosives buried not as far as we’d like to think below the surface, there’s the overarching doomsday scenario taken from Kubrick, with WMDs hurtling towards us and striking land within an hour’s time.

The crisis compels Weaver’s President to call upon the council of elders, comprised of audience members who lived through past wars of the 20th century (WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam war). Weaver gently yet purposefully mediates the conversation, which although seems slightly rushed, is mostly arresting, inviting, and affective (of course, it has the potential to be many other things too, depending on the night). The Situation Room demonstrates what happens when older voices and narratives are centred, and how these voices are often unmined resources when examining the current state of affairs.

Part of this show is about ageing, but specifically it explores what happens when we are confronted with the possibility of our own end, or at least of an end. That time of contemplation before the event, whether it be for a few moments, sixty minutes (as is this case here), or many years, is what is being examined here. If anything, Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) is a show about what time affords us, if we give it the space to do so.

The fatalism that’s offered up by Split Britches is equal parts poignant and irreverent. It’s particularly good when Shaw and Weaver interact (there’s a great gag involving Shaw jolting up whenever she hears Weaver say ‘general’). Urgency is contrasted with idleness, time is pressurized and then made languid. So much seems to be about understanding the time that we have, which upon investigation allows for jokes, song (We’ll Meet Again does feature), intimacy, dance, videography, and civic engagement.

It’s untidy and that’s a good thing. Yes, the Kubrick allusion occasionally overwhelms the other motifs in the show, but there is still a rich tapestry of reference to clasp onto, including images of world leaders as they’re chatting on the phone. Weaver and Shaw keep it messy and straightforward, going in and out of character, admitting the metaphor time and time again. Because it is as clear to them as it is to us: this is a show, and we are living through it together.

And what arises is a digging up of unexplored desires. They are continuously compared to unexploded ordnances, which like the explosive devices, are buried (though also probably closer to the surface than we might like). They too are governed by time, and their subterranean status has more to do with how we use our time than it does their own make-up. We simply don’t dig them up. But what if we did?

Unexploded Ordnances was on from 15 – 19 May 2018 at the Barbican. Click here for more details.


Brendan Macdonald is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) at the Barbican Show Info

Directed by Lois Weaver

Written by Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw, and Hannah Maxwell

Cast includes Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw



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