Trouble in Store by Douglas Morrison

With Brighton the sparehead of english eco-politics, having elected the first Westminster green MP, it is fitting that a brilliant site-specific, multi-media show carries on the fight, linking shopping and messing up the planet.

So this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a chopper.

If art has something to say to us about the planet we are destroying it can rarely have been better expressed than by Before I Sleep, a show created for last month’s Brighton Festival. It takes a moment and a character from Chekhov and transforms them into an experience that shakes up our notions of everything from high art to the everyday banality of shopping to the ecoapocalypse.  And with brilliant appropriation of place, it is staged in the shell of a run-down former Co-op department store on one of Brighton’s grimmest roads.

Remember Firs, the old butler left behind at the end of The Cherry Orchard? He is abandoned because of the economic development of the land and the sweeping away of the old order, represented in the threat to cut down the orchard. The presiding spirit of the piece, he greets us and reappears in various scenes as we move through the darkened, neglected building. The journey takes us from snowy Russian wastes in miniature to a full-size department store where every assistant speaks a different language and on to a drowned future.

Oh, yes, the imperative behind the destruction of the orchard leads inexorably to the Millennium Retail store, your international focus of the capitalist dream. And if we have eyes to see through the multi-media settings and ears to hear what’s being said behind the multi-lingual blandishments, we might understand the transformation from forest to flood that threatens the planet.

But to begin at the beginning.

It is three-dimensional magic, boxes within boxes, houses within houses, levels within levels, while we the spectators become actors in a promenade performance whose strangeness confuses, alarms, exhilarates, entertains and, hopefully, enlightens.

 We enter in groups of four on the ground floor. A guide knocks on a door and an old man with a candle peers round, muttering in Russian, and leads us in. It is pitch dark apart from his little flame. We stumble after him, bemused, as he seems to get shorter and feebler before the candle gutters and goes out. Assuming he has descended some steps we brace ourselves for a fall. Space and time begin to fracture. But another light glows and it’s clear that he has crawled into a low bed where he lies under blankets, muttering. Suddenly, there is light everywhere. We are in a glass-walled room where three Russian women in modern dress are shouting at us, and gesturing angrily through the glass. They lead us out and direct us through a door into a huge room, whose entire floor is covered by a miniature winter scene from the play. There is the house, with the orchard behind it….

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