Written and Directed by Davey Seagle
Ponydog Productions / Old Red Lion Theatre
London Horror Festival
9th-11th October 2018
In Davey Seagle’s The Agency, nothing is quite as it seems.
As soon as you enter the theatre you become immersed in the dystopian future of 2029, where justice is privatised, and your actions as an audience determine how the show ends. Faced with various scenarios, you, as an audience, vote digitally via your phone on the play’s dilemmas, with each decision you make building towards the play’s climax. Votes are displayed via projection on the back wall, and, thankfully for an interactive show, audience members can participate as much or as little as they want. You can suggest solutions, vote, debate, sit quietly, or in the case of some of my fellow theatregoers, turn into bloodthirsty maniacs.
I left feeling transported, slightly shaken, and immensely entertained.
It’s a fast-paced and witty dark comedy, with a hard-hitting moral core, and it raises some fascinating ethical questions. If a murderer’s incarceration costs £50 000 a year (which it does), is it ethically better that money is rather spent on a dozen cancer treatments? If the murderer is in prison 20 years, that’s the equivalent of
£1mil of taxpayer money. So if you had the choice, would you rather than pay for 140 cancer treatments? Or give the money to the bereaved?
But if you don’t lock them up, what do you do with the murderer? And what for that matter do you do with the cancer patients?
The Agency lets the audience decide, and you might be surprised where your moral compass takes you. And due to the multiple branching choices within the plot, it’s hard to tell what was written and what’s improvised. It’s not a show likely to end the same way twice.
Glueing the together is its impressive cast. Niamh Blackman and Chris Elms in particular shine as Chuck and Cherry, your guides through the treacherous realms of satirical corporate bureaucracy (much funnier than it sounds). Their energy, quick thinking, and earnestness give the show its structure, humour, and much of its emotional impact. Georgie Oulton too provides a sympathetic and powerful twist as Bunny, while Davey Seagle occasionally chimes in hilariously as the obnoxious and multi-tasking lighting man.
Not to say that there weren’t problems. There were definitely hiccups in the show. A tech breakdown, laggy internet issues that were a plague to the pacing, the more improv-heavy sections occasionally being bogged down by rowdy audience members before adroit ship-righting by Elms and Blackman, and perhaps some ham-fisted writing during Bunny’s monologue scene. But overall it’s an extraordinary show, and I’d like to see what this team could accomplish on more than their shoe-string pub theatre budget.