Site specific theatre is always an exciting prospect, even more so when the location is kept a secret. For Contact Young Company’s latest production, The Shrine of Everyday Things, the audience walk from the theatre building to an empty housing estate in Ardwick. Here they are greeted by characters and split into groups, which determines the route that they follow around the estate, watching a short piece in each house. Each piece takes place in and focuses on a different room: living room, kitchen, bedroom and dining room.
As its paradoxical title suggests, The Shrine of Everyday Things marries the normal aspects of life in these rooms with some rather strange scenes and characters. At times, this feeling of unreality takes over with unnerving effect – the three women in the living room scene listen at the wall through glasses, smash ornaments violently on the floor and end up wrapping a visiting stranger in bubble wrap. The brief tea party between two scenes, involving cups with holes in the bottom that slowly drain away their contents, is also a confusing inclusion. But when the everyday does appear, it is with touching familiarity – the character cooking dinner for his mother is devastated when he finds out she’s letting him down “again” by not coming.
Atmosphere is crucial to the success of Shrine. A scene in a darkened bedroom is made magical with a lantern that projects stars onto the ceiling, which the audience watch as they lie back on the bed. The fast-paced, chaotic ‘dinner party’ scene – with characters running in and out – is made increasingly absurd by the sugar pouring through holes in the ceiling, while a neighbour asking to borrow sugar is turned away because there isn’t any. Even the walk from Contact to the estate is transformed into a prelude to the performance, with the use of headphones playing audio extracts and music to set the mood.
The young cast are excellent throughout, at ease with both the unusual setting and audience interaction. They remain in character consistently – even when standing on Oxford Road and waving in slow motion at the audience when they first arrive at the estate – and keep to the time frame imposed by juggling different groups. Additionally, they deserve credit for devising the piece with directors Lowri Evans, Rodolfo Amorim, Renato Bolelli Rebouças and Jamil Keating. The inclusion of a group of young children from the estate gives Shrine an added injection of realism – it isn’t initially obvious that they are meant to be joining in!
This is a well-performed, beautifully crafted production that immerses its audience in a truly unique theatrical experience. But crucially, Shrine isn’t just an interesting idea – it has emotional substance behind it. It’s a poignant, uplifting ode not just to our homes, but to our capacity to be living, breathing shrines carrying the dreams and memories that make us who we are.