Doppelganster's 2019 'Choke me'.

A review by Katie Bott.

Doppelganster's 'choke me' is not your typical theatre performance. The art forms of acting, dance and music all work together, they are each well executed individually, and ultimately come together in one astonishing piece. Performed for the ‘Off the Shelf’ festival at Sheffield Hallam’s Performance Lab, the show demonstrates the problems our world is facing with ecological, environmental damage, with particular focus on climate change with an aim to open the audience's eyes, giving them something to reflect on.

'Choke me' was created and directed by Doppelgangster's Dr Tom Payne and Tobias Manderson-Gavin; it also features experimental choreography by Sarah Lamb and an affective score composed by Jules Pascoe.  They all bring their own ideas to the table to create a breath-taking, frightening experience. Doppelgangster know how to deliver an original political narrative, their previous work ‘Treefxxxers’ highlights political issues in Sheffield regarding deforestation. Let’s just say they like to focus in on climate crisis.

The performance Is composed of multiple scenes each scene getting closer to the end of the world, as each scene goes on the tension, the thrill and the worry rises, preparing the audience for the end of the world. The show reflects on mankind's absurd persistence to continue to ignore these issues. If the government don’t act to make changes to environmental damage, we will all 'choke' on the thick hazy polluted air. 

The acting of the ensemble was good throughout, everyone bought something to the stage. A handful stood out to me, two of them being the narrators, which were sat at the left of the stage in costume and character. James Sutherland and Maisie Bramford had me captivated, I felt they really held everything together to deliver the narrative. With Sutherlands’ deep death like voice bellowing out was enough to raise each hair on your body, you could feel the fright slowly coming over you as each scene passed. It was interesting when they were talking about impending doom but then went onto discuss everyday human interactions, to demonstrate how oblivious humans are, how we show no empathy to our earth that we continue to destroy.

I was impressed by each performer, they held there character wonderfully as they drift from scene to scene seamlessly. Considering how hectic the show was, the timings were nothing but perfect, even blowing up the inflatable swans was with great precision. 

I particularly enjoyed how Doppelgangster integrated poetry. Euan Irving’s poem about an old woman who swallowed up most of the animal kingdom conveys mankind’s determination to consume and destroy everything that comes in sight.

The use of flashing beaming lights and loud humming sound effects adds to the overall thrill the audience experiences, creating an unusual sensational atmosphere. There is a large white box on stage which remains there throughout, with actors making their appearance delivering a fantastic performance. Some actors remain in the box for a certain amount of time; they may just be stood in a freeze frame position glaring over at the audience creating tension and uncertainty. The constant humming sound that you can always hear contributes to that thrill the audience feels.

The costumes, I felt were rather effectual, from performers dressed to represent death to police officers, monks and matriarchs and even black metal ring masters, these costumes represent institutions that have been in existence for decades, maybe even centuries, which are now crippling apart and losing control.  

I especially enjoy a performance if there is music involved so I was pleasantly surprised whilst watching ‘Choke Me’ by how they incorporated a variety of songs, composed by Jules Pascoe. ‘Smoke city’, a song performed mainly by three performers in the white box, with others front of stage performing choreography by Sarah Lamb which fitted marvellously. The message ‘Smoke City’ conveys is about how we are living in a city filled with toxins. The score of ‘Smoke City’ was great but rather basic, the harmonies were okay but there was room for improvement.  Another effective song was ‘Choke me’, this was more of a metal piece with performers head banging, screaming out how they wanted the smoke to choke them, so they don’t have to suffer living in the polluted air. Overall, I felt the lyrics of these songs supported the narrative, but as a musical piece they were not all that great.

‘Choke me’, as a performance overall was great! I thoroughly enjoyed the show and muchly appreciated how Doppelgangster are raising climate issues. I liked how they feed dialogue to the actors through an earpiece keeping them connected. With great acting, choreography and good music the show really delivered an exceptional message to the audience. I was left thinking deeply about these climate issues. Doppelganster and the cast from Sheffield Hallam did an outstanding Job. With effective set and costumes, I hope other members of the audience appreciate ‘Choke Me’ like I do, a truly fantastic show.  



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