Shunt, The Ballad of Bobby Francois

Review in Issue 11-4 | Winter 1999

When an aeroplane carrying a team of young rugby players crashed in the Andes in the early Seventies, the survivors were destined to starve to death whilst awaiting rescue in the inaccessible mountain heights. In their desperation to cling to life, however, there was one gruesome option available to them: to eat one of the team members who didn’t survive the crash. This horrific case provides the scenario for an exhilarating site-specific performance by Shunt at their base underneath a railway arch in east London.

The audience is met on the street by an air hostess who checks them in and issues some perfunctory safety warnings. Once on board, peanuts are dispensed prior to take-off, then the lights go off and the audience is plunged into darkness. After five minutes of white noise, the plane crashes and its walls disintegrate to expose a barren landscape and a handful of survivors clinging to the wreckage.

Following this exciting, interactive opening, Shunt take a more expressionistic approach for the remainder of the performance; extracting a sequence of striking visual images from the facts of the event, and presenting them as a series of snapshots that together create a masterful sense of place: the paper walls of the aeroplane become snow underfoot and the cavernous interior of the railway arch becomes a mountain top. A series of complex visual clues hints at an unfolding narrative and combines with atmospheric lighting effects and the eerie rumbling of trains passing overhead, to create a performance that is rich in quirky black humour and jam-packed with inspired ideas.

The Ballad of Bobby Francois proves that site-specific performances, when they are this good, can be so much more powerful than the sort of passive viewing events that audiences are subjected to in conventional theatre spaces.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Oct 1999

This article in the magazine

Issue 11-4
p. 24