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Dexter’s Kill Room

The crowd gathering for Discharge is divided and herded into lines. With passes. Without. Able-bodied. Needing assistance. Indemnity forms all round. There is tension in the ranks as we are packed into the back of a military transport vehicle. We are survivors – for now.

I count 12 people on one of the four benches. That’s somewhere in the region of 50 people, crammed in the back of a truck, with no idea where they are and their knees in strangers’ crotches. Even if you’re not claustrophobic, the stench of diesel in the near-complete darkness is enough to get you in the mood for some apocalyptic panic.

Soon enough, though, it’s evident the ride is part of the performance but it’s not dramatically upheld and the novelty wears off. Now I feel like I’m on a school outing, and wish the First Physical Theatre Company would either raise the age restriction or ask the audience to keep silent for the journey.

Soon, barbed-wire fences appear in the light of the full moon, and we rumble to a halt at the First City Regiment Military Base. Outside the truck is a monstrous pile of rubbish. It begins to move. Suddenly we’re not as eager to get out of the truck.

Once ushered into the hangar, I realise very quickly that the publicity photos are deceptively tame. It’s a wasteland of human existence. Three dancers in plasticky yellow jumpsuits do something reminiscent of the macarena, in a circle made of shredded paper. Tents are erected in the cavernous darkness, and we wander between them at our own risk, encountering and recoiling at the unimaginable oddities in the shadows.

An air-raid siren sounds. I almost run for cover. We are instructed to sit down on rows and rows of dilapidated beds. It’s story-time. A matronly character and a taxidermied animal tell of how the world ended, while demented characters creep among the bed-bound viewers. A deranged man with a scale, tape-measure and clipboard approaches me. “Age?” “Useful skills?” “Diseases?” Such is the urgency in his voice that I answer honestly each time. He tells me I am fit to stay in the survival shelter.

With a shadow of real relief, I move on to the next stage: a vast plastic maze. The matron bids us goodbye and good luck, with a kiss from the roadkill-creature on each cheek. Silhouettes contorted by the plastic sheeting fade and disappear into the unknown. Inside, it is Harry Potter’s Triwizard Tournament maze meets Dexter’s Kill Room. Horrific figures in gas masks claw at me through the plastic, and I walk on, knowing that each turn will bring me face to face with another of the masked monstrosities.

I emerge from the maze sensing the end of the performance, but no: we are ushered to yet another installation. Combining video, two actors and two live musicians, this scene is the point where I begin to get antsy for the wrong reasons. The first moments are Edward Scissorhands-like and amusing, but the scene drags on and the characters are disappointingly normal after the morbidly fascinating imagery of the previous scenes. I’m beginning to bore of this apocalypse.

Finally the rest of the cast materialises out of the gloom and pushes us with vacant determination towards the door. The last thing I see is a figure covered in blankets with porcupine quills sticking out of his back, leaning on a crutch and dragging a child in a gas mask slowly, doggedly, towards the door of the hangar.

Kill the lights. Utter darkness. The hangar door rolls open and the moonlight streams in. It’s 8pm, and the outside world is habitable once again. A stamp on my hand says, “We did it”. I feel like I’ve seen the trailer for a journey into the recesses of the human imagination. I would love to see the full feature.

Chelsea Geach

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