Choke Me – 24 October 2019, Performance Lab, Sheffield

Review by Daniel O’ Key.

“You can only imagine my intrigue after receiving a face mask and earplugs before seeing a show called “Choke Me”. I was told to expect a provocative piece of theatre targeting the environmental threats within South Yorkshire and the world at large. For the most part, Dopplegangster company directors Tom and Payne and Tobias Manderson-Galvin succeeded. This is a piece that fully commits, right down to the audience being evacuated from the building with a torrent of smoke and fire alarms blazing (which even if unintentional, didn’t hurt the immersion).

Sarah Kane’s influence felt very present here: from the first scene the lighting was bright and oppressive, each scene was a countdown to the end of days, conventional dialogue was replaced by dark platitudes concerning “the void” and impending doom, the performers were dressed in police uniforms before monologuing the apathy of our authority figures. The show was wise to highlight the callousness of government officials as a perpetrator of climate change, however it felt on-the-nose and over-the-top during the first couple of scenes.

However, there was a lot to enjoy here thanks to effective sound work by Jules Pascoe, deft lighting choices and committed performances. Standout scenes included a heavy metal number; the singers (or screamers in this case) begging to succumb to our toxic environment, while the rest of the cast imitated zombies as smoke cascaded around them with the lyrics emblazoned on screen. It was riveting to watch. The preludes to each scene also grabbed attention, narrated by two ghostly announcers (James Sutherland and Maisie Bamford), who provided context with pitch-perfect emotionless performances. While their goth makeup wasn’t needed, they set the tone perfectly.

Photo credit: Becky Payne

This was an ensemble piece and there were no weak links, however there should be a warrant for cast member Euan Irvings arrest, because he stole this production. In lesser hands, his reworking of a famous nursey rhyme into a story of choking to death (complete with having the audience chant “DIE” 36 times) could’ve veered into GCSE Grade C territory, but he was so charismatic that it landed. When he delivered slightly pseudo-deep dialogue (“smoking is good for the environment, because it kills people!”) it felt powerful and like a righteous call to action. No doubt he could forge a professional career as an actor, or even a spoken word performer, after his studies.

At its best Choke Me was a compelling piece of abstract theatre and an effective attack on our apathy towards climate change. At its worst, it strove a little too much for the “edgy AF” feel, which garnered a couple of chuckles despite its noble intentions. However, most importantly, Choke Me was never boring. And Dopplegangster should be happy with the provocative piece they have created.”

For further information on this production visit www.offtheshelf.org.uk/event/choke-me-by-doppelgangster/

Photo credit: Becky Payne

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