Venue: Bullitt Hotel, Belfast
11 to 19 October 2018
Producer: Three’s Theatre Company
Day or night, Bullitt Hotel is currently one of the hippest spots in Belfast city centre. Refashioned out of a large, run-down complex of shops and commercial premises, its trendy courtyard café/bar, roof garden, cocktail bar and minimally furnished bedrooms have become the destination for all manner of events, getaways, parties and flamboyant gatherings – witness the Greatest Showman fancy dress bash taking place at the same time as Three’s opening night.
There’s plenty of space for all though and as the small audience gathers in the yard for the second instalment of the already successful Date Night, casual drinkers, diners and overnight visitors register our group of neon-coloured headphone-wearing punters with little more than mild passing interest.
Under its dynamic founder and artistic director Anna Leckey, Three’s has already put down a marker as an ambitious young company, ready to fashion live performance off a shoestring and to navigate a variety of enterprising funding routes in order to raise the necessary finance.
Date Night: After Dark is a site specific piece, devised exclusively for Bullitt’s spaces. It exemplifies a meeting of minds between arts and business and has, as a result, attracted funding from Arts & Business NI. As Gilly Campbell, drama and dance officer for the Arts Council on Northern Ireland remarked, “Who knew that the arts could market business?”
Date Night’s format could be staged in other similar premises, just about anywhere in the world. Its themes and content are universal. Audience members become eavesdroppers and voyeurs, encouraged to exploit the human instinct for people watching via a string of planned and chance encounters throughout the hotel complex. Eight young performers take on a variety of roles, integrating so seamlessly with the paying customers that onlookers are unsure of which direction they should swivel their heads.
Some segments are more interesting and arresting than others. But that’s people for you. Some locations offer no alternative viewpoints as the audience is right there in the place in the moment. It is challenging to pry upon Dan Leith’s tortured internal dialogue as he eyeballs himself in a toilet mirror before venturing out to meet his girlfriend (Mary Jordan) for dinner. Their abusive quarrel over the Sauvignon is an uncomfortable but compelling listen. Less engaging is the clunky sex scene in Room 118 between Aisling Groves-McKeown and Michael Bingham in front of twelve pairs of curious eyes – though the biscuit gag is a welcome distraction.
One-sided telephone conversations tend to signal dramatic death – unless, arguably, written by Harold Pinter. Wrong Distance, written by Colm G Doran and performed by Groves-McKeown, Cailum Carragher and Michael Bingham relies substantially on a blokeish exchange and a girly chat, which seem to go on interminably and inconclusively. Conversely, the unlikely date in Babel roof bar between Jordan and Lynne Webber in Sophie Flight’s Lemonade is a neat little piece, with a poignant edge.
The tech magic of this fun promenade affair is complex and potentially risky. Glitches, such as poor sound reception in the hotel stairwell, are surprisingly few and the final dance sequence, performed live and in slick location video inserts by Lizi Watt and Gerard Kelly, is a witty way of promoting Belfast as a great city in which to spend time and money. Date Night: After Dark has provided a showcase for the talents of sixteen aspiring young theatre professionals and is to be applauded.