PROMPT CORNER 16–17/2008
The Factory (redux)
Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh
August, 2008

“No doubt we shall actually talk to each other in the days to come,” I blithely remarked in this column last issue.  How wrong could I be?


To recap briefly:

On 7 August I went to see Badac Theatre’s production The Factory at the Pleasance on the Edinburgh Fringe.  It aimed to evoke the industrial process aspect of the Holocaust by treating the audience as Auschwitz inmates, and bullying them relentlessly.  At one relatively unobtrusive point in the performance I refused a command to move by saying, moderately, “No,” when yelled at.  (I subsequently altered this to “Say ‘please’.”)  The performance moved on without me and without disruption; I left the theatre.  That night, director/performer Steve Lambert and a comrade spent some time ostentatiously following me around the venue’s club bar.  It was clear that they didn’t want to talk, just to make me uncomfortably conscious of their presence close by; basically, they were intimidating me.

That was as far as things had got when I wrote the last Prompt Corner.  In fact, Lambert did much more heavying the following night, with wordless but strong psychological threats over a sustained period, including making to follow me as I left; only by bringing the matter to the attention of the venue's director did I get out.  The following day I logged the matter with the police, though I was told that it didn't amount to an incident for which I could be given an official case number.


My friend and colleague Chris Wilkinson, who as well as being a theatre director is one of the Guardian's theatre bloggers (and one with whom I frequently and candidly disagree) had, by chance, already booked to see the show the following day.  When he heard my account of the performance, his initial response – which he kept to himself at the time – was that I had over-reacted.  In the event, however, he found himself feeling exactly the same, and so started refusing to face the way he was ordered to, and also challenged one bellowed "MOVE!" with "Or what?"  Chris, however, stayed with the show until the end (a scene set in the gas chamber in which the audience are ordered to strip in exactly the same way as the other orders barked out, but this time apparently on the assumption that they won't comply).

Fully a week after the performance he attended, Chris was violently assaulted in the venue's club bar by Lambert and another company member, in separate incidents.  (Other members of the company hauled the attackers off; Chris later had a lengthy and non-antagonistic conversation with those others.)  Since the Independent had briefly written up my run-ins with the company, I suggested to Chris that he get in touch with them for a follow-up story.  While he was actually on the phone to the paper, Lambert assaulted him again in the street outside the Pleasance’s main campus.  Chris, having reported the initial attacks to the police, returned with details of this new assault, and on being told his options, he chose that a formal police warning be given to Lambert.


The result of Chris’s call to the Indie [led to a floow-up item in which] I count six inaccuracies in 130 or so words, which is going it somewhat.  Most saliently, Chris did not pull faces during the performance, blow kisses at them in the bar or “exchange colourful verbals” with them (unless by “exchange” one means have a torrent directed at him out of nowhere and respond with a single moderate epithet).

Lambert apparently later apologised to the staff of the bar and to the management of the venue, which (unusually for the Edinburgh Fringe) had a financial stake in the production.  Well, whoopee.  Never a word even of discussion, let alone apology, to either Chris or myself.  He also continued to be welcome in the bar after his acts of unprovoked violence, with the result that Chris and I remained apprehensive and on the alert against his possible entrance, and downright fearful on the one occasion he did turn up.  In some ways, the Pleasance’s inaction has been more disturbing than Lambert’s actions.

The Financial Times “legalled out” all my references to events after the actual performance, leaving my account of the show as my first ever no-star review.  Chris fared better at the Guardian, who after some legal consultation published a blog entry by him at – the thread of comments beneath it includes several by me.  I don’t intend to rehash much of that discussion, but it raised some interesting points regarding Chris’s and my behaviour in the light of our status as critics.


Leaving aside the question of the extent to which we “disrupted” performances (which I maintain was infinitesimal), a number of commenters seemed to take the opinion that a critic’s duty to cover the event in question effectively limits her/his rights in common with any other audience member to respond as they may feel appropriate or warranted.  This surely cannot be the case.  A critic has a responsibility to report the event, certainly, but it is fantasy to believe that such a report can ever be written in terms that are both rigorously impersonal and significantly meaningful.  Reviewing is a matter of perception, and articulation of that perception; however stringent one’s training, it is at root a subjective activity.  Remember, too, Heisenberg’s axiom that the act of measurement inevitably affects the condition of the thing measured.  Chris and I may possibly have found that our professional status as critics invested us with greater assurance of our common status as contracting parties to the performer/audience agreement, and so we felt more able to behave in the way we did in performance; however, we were not abusing our status as critics – rather, we were making full use of our status as aware audience members.  It seems to me that the dishonesty, the betrayal of truth as regards the event, would be to suppress such response rather than to give vent to it.  Steve Lambert seems to disagree, but then his declaration on the company web site that “Badac's work has always focused on human rights issues” evidently doesn’t extend, outside the theatre, to the basic human right not to be physically attacked.

I’m sorry to go on at such tedious length: a month and more later, this grotesque saga continues to haunt me.  The most grotesque aspect of all is that such comparatively minor unpleasantnesses can serve to overshadow the enormity of the events dealt with in the play.

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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