It’s half-past eleven at night and I’m sat on the tube heading into London. I’m not dressed in heels and a skirt – in fact, I’m wearing the comfiest clothes I own, and my large handbag is filled with water, chewing gum, comfy socks, and flapjacks. I’m on my way to the Barbican for a 12 hour stint at Forced Entertainment‘s Quizoola!. ‘I must be mad’, I think… and I’m very nearly right.
Conceived and devised by the whole company, with text written by Tim Etchells along with members of the public, Quizoola! is an exploration of humanity. Thousands upon thousands of questions are asked – ranging from ‘what came first, the colour orange or the fruit?’, to ‘have you slept with someone who is now dead?’. And we the audience observe, in a bizarre, Big Brother, prisoner watching way. Originally a 6 hour show, Forced Entertainment extended it as part of the Barbican’s SPILL festival; I found it hard to last the length of the original. From midnight to 2am, I was engaged and interested, laughing along to the improvised answers, intrigued by the performers’ capacity to switch from lighthearted to serious. By 4am, I felt like I was going insane. Exhaustion was overtaking, I felt nauseous, shaky, like I was sitting in some form of psychological torture. So we took a break.
The rooms around the Pit area of the Barbican were still up and running for our benefit, comfy sofas allowing people to catch a nap, a cafe open to serve anything from crisps to pasta. A 40 minute break returned me to reality and eased my restlessness enough to head back into the white room, four large crystal chandeliers creating an eerie, Hollywood-film atmosphere to the piece. The performers, by this point having switched around after their 2 hour stints, sat on chairs beneath a neon sign, their clown makeup beginning to look less fresh and friendly.
I lasted 8 hours. By 8am, despite having dozed for around an hour at 6, I was ready to leave. I didn’t understand why I was there, or what was going on. Perhaps, I thought, that was the intention – to see how long audiences will last, and exploration of stamina, a question of attention, and how far you can push someone to believe in your performance.
It was definitely an experience. Something unlike any other piece of theatre I have seen before, or I expect will see again. Should I attempt something similar, I don’t think I’ll put myself past 6 hours – the desperation reached a point where I felt I would never leave that room or return to normality. The questions themselves were mundane, the room monotonous with its white walls and grey chairs, the performers were animated and it was interesting to watch their own deterioration into sleep deprivation. But Quizoola! is not something to be taken lightly. Go prepared to be shaken and confused, leave feeling somewhat disturbed, and don’t expect to last the night.