Performed across two floors of a vicarage in Hove, Wired Theatre’s All Found And Up For Action is a shining example of site-specific theatre done right. It’s 1914 – the eve of war, and also the height of the campaign for women’s suffrage – and we’re snooping on conversations in a seaside boarding-house, a refuge for those who’ve suffered in the struggle for votes for all. Into this all-female environment comes a larger-than-life American man, who claims to be making a film supporting the women’s cause. But as we, the eavesdroppers, know, his true motives are rather less virtuous than they seem.
Interspersed with this main plot is a series of vignettes in the style of silent movies – each accompanied by a comedy plinkety-plink soundtrack, and performed with hammy gusto by a cast who were plainly enjoying their opportunity to unbend. At times I was a little confused about what we were actually seeing: some of the filmic segments are self-evidently fantasies, while others seemed they might actually be part of the plot. But it doesn’t really matter. The juxtaposition between the two styles is an extremely successful one, adding some welcome visual humour without detracting from the play’s relatively serious purpose.
Because, when it does get serious, it’s truly gut-wrenching. One scene captures the visceral reality of what it’s like to be force-fed, employing such matter-of-fact clarity I found myself forced to turn away. More subtly – but no less powerfully – there’s a well-conceived side-plot involving a kindly policeman, whose role drives him apart from his family until a personal tragedy brings them together again. All these stories are told by a well-rehearsed and selfless ensemble, who collectively ensure that the story’s big personalities never overshadow its most important themes.
The only real criticism I have is a logistical one: the management of the audience, always a key part of promenade performances like this one, could have been better. Saying “stand anywhere” is all very well, but some scenes are designed to be viewed from a particular angle – and once the dialogue’s underway you’re basically stuck wherever you are. I spent one particularly painful five-minute period crouched awkwardly on the floor, knowing that if I stood up to relieve my suffering muscles I’d ruin the experience for the people behind me.
The ending’s a little rushed as well. But those are only glitches in a finely-tuned production, which makes excellent use of the features of the vicarage without ever being dominated by them. It has well-drawn characters, some poignant notes from history – and crucially, its quirky tone is balanced by a straightforward, clearly-signposted plot. After many years enjoying Wired Theatre’s work, I’m delighted to crown this one the best I’ve seen. Roll on next year!