Review: The Black Maze & Revolutionary Steps

The first thing you notice when you approach The Black Maze is that it’s a lot smaller than you may have been led to believe a ‘lorry’ would be. But don’t let that fool you it’s still a pitch-black labyrinth in there. An air of mystery surrounds this experience; the calming gentleman who explains the instructions is as slippery as a politician when it comes to describing what we’ve got coming and people’s reactions as they exit vary from fury (in teenage terms) and befuddled smiling to genuine fear.

In actuality it is all these things (except maybe the fury, not sure what that girl experienced). Stan’s Café have placed just the right amount of external treats and tricks to keep you on your toes throughout your journey, teetering between excitement and nervous palpitations. It may not be a ghost train but there are strong carnivalesque and Victorian overtones to this Black Maze, along with distinct echoes of submarines and some CCTV star gazing. But there’s nothing to fear except fear itself and really the only thing you confront in this maze is yourself (and some glorious trompe l’oeil illusionism).

Revolutionary Steps takes the strict foyer spaces of the National Theatre and turns them into an improvisational playpen. Cheerfully coloured vinyl footprints and speech bubbles wink out at you from stairs, lift doors and window frames depicting 13 scenes in a simplified version of Danton’s Death.

If The Black Maze is best done alone, Revolutionary Steps has to be done in a group. It is a piece which lives or dies by how much you put into it, as you are the performers and (if there are too many of you to perform or some don’t want to) the audience. And you need balls, because these are spaces full of the theatre going public and they will watch you. But the bravery pays off and it does feel as though Danton’s Death is leaking out of its theatrical constraints.  In a sweet twist there is a cracking monologue at the end like a jewel in the crown “I’ll scream so everything will stand still in shock” Camille cries. You feel that if someone actually does, the whole of the National actually will.

The Black Maze runs until 8th August

Revolutionary Steps runs until 30th August.

Written for What’s On Stage

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Craig Stephens On … Stan’s Café at the National Theatre

A house of mirrors in The Black Maze

On Stan’s Café’s website they mischievously proclaim “Forget ‘1-on-1′ Theatre, here’s ‘Just You (and maybe your mate) Theatre.'” It’s a teaser to The Black Maze, one of the shows coming to the National Theatre’s Watch This Space festival this August. They have every right to make such a cheeky statement with their 1998 project It’s Your Film sitting like the Godfather at the BAC’s One-on-One Festival last month. Remarkably prescient this Victorian illusion piece for an audience of one, gave this newish art form a historical context. Associate Director Craig Stephens laughs, “In a way it’s a nice little period piece… no one in the film has mobile phone because when we were creating it no one had one!”

The Black Maze follows on from It’s Your Film in that it places the audience at the centre of the experience. A solo trip through a series of pitch-black corridors encased in a lorry, The Black Maze sends your senses into overdrive through external stimuli (it would be cheating to reveal what these are but suffice it to say they sound exhilarating) with each story and adventure being uniquely forged by us.

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