Review: The Town Hall @ Northern Stage
Little Rikjord. Big Ideas: badges with this slogan are given out on the door in addition to a black envelope marked “secret information – share with nobody”. This is The Town Meeting and the audience are the stars.
Through the doors the participants are greeted by a mock-up community hall. A notice board sits in one corner, decorated with everything from flyers recruiting choir members to a lonely hearts column. Chairs are stacked in piles around the edges.
It is obvious the audience are new to this concept. They nervously look to see what others are doing before forming a circle with the chairs. Awkward conversation ensues as they wait for something to happen. Eyes look to others as a phone begins to buzz. Everybody looks uncomfortable until one is brave enough to pick it up.
It is revealed that Benjamin, the only actor in this performance, is running late and asks the members to wait until he arrives.
He stumbles in a couple of minutes later, apologetic and fumbling. The Junior Planning Officer is to oversee the community meeting which will decide the future of Little Rikjord.
There is anticipation in the air. People are evidently excited by this different take on the theatre experience. They look eager as more information is revealed.
The small town is facing a crucial dilemma: the primary source of employment comes from the neighbouring iron ore mine, which is now almost fully exhausted.
The town’s mining company want to relocate Little Rikjord to access the iron ore that sits beneath them. It’s now up to the participants, along with the information given to them in the black envelopes, to decide the outcome of the meeting.
Benjamin steers the group by giving certain tasks: drawing up a town map, a group discussion, to decide a course of action and elect representatives. Other than this, the evening is controlled by the group.
It isn’t before long that arguments arise. Despite the outcome not affecting them in any way, many become passionate about the cause. They slip into characters based on their black envelopes.
But the evening is about much more than just deciding the future of this fictional town. It is about witnessing how you. and those around you. react to external pressures. It quickly becomes evident that many in the room are distrustful of the system and of those that represent them. Many draw on real life examples as to why this is, leaving the evening in more chaos.
These arguments and distrust are balanced by the unintentionally funny character of Benjamin. While such an unpredictable discourse may have affected some actors, Brad McCormick shines in his role of the shambolic officer. He brilliantly portrays the useless character while keeping some form of order to the proceedings.
The evening is overseen by Dr Paul Cowie from Newcastle University who is using the evening and its results as part of an ongoing research project.