‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’. It seems a clear enough rule by which to live a decent life. But when you start to unpick it, complications sneak in. So it goes through all the propositions put to us, the ‘focus group’, by Simon Wilkinson (playing some version of himself) and his ‘intern’ from Lourdes, Liyuwerk Sheway Mulugeta (co-creator of the piece), on behalf of the mysterious LDD – a market research group who have ‘tasked’ the group with ‘re-thinking, re-branding, and re-launching the Ten Commandments for the 21st century’.
Sitting at a long table, with colour-coded folders and badges, Simon and Liyuwerk pitch questions to us about morality, society, environment, economics and love. We are asked individually and as a group to discuss these questions, some of which are intentionally provocative. Once the question has been chewed over, we each write a new commandment on a post-it note.
The group at this particular session was mainly one big gang of friends, who had no idea what they were going to see and at first seemed a bit out of kilter with the roles being played by Simon, Liyuwerk and us. But gradually real engagement took hold, people argued with passion, sometimes opposing the ideology put to them.
Projected still and moving images, graphic statements and reportage both real and fake punctuated the verbal presentation. A film of Ethiopian children arriving in Paris to be adopted was a sudden slap of reality. This was Liyuwerk’s story. She told it quietly with the words ‘Mama Baba’ projected on her forehead.
Having written our new commandments, we then filed one by one into a ‘voting booth’ to pick our favourites. The process was managed with a light touch.
In another room, Elvis, on a film loop, thanked us for participating. Simon, speaking through a megaphone ‘for effect’, told us a story of everyday heroism, and announced the winning commandments, which would be listed on the company website – remaining there until outvoted by a subsequent ‘focus group’.
The New Ten Commandments was an interesting, lively event, dependent on the people around the table, and encouraging thought and debate within a theatrical conceit. What we only touched on, though, was the legitimacy of commandments or rules and their necessity in the 21st century. Those handed down by Moses came from a deity, head of a monotheist religion. Take away the belief in ‘one god’, which might be thought better than another person’s god, and many of the world’s problems would surely dissolve.
The piece doesn’t quite end when you leave the building, as some people were selected to pass to the second level of market research and asked to make a telephone call. I won’t spoil what happens next, but it serves to keep the conversation going, to blur fact and fiction, and contribute to the show.
As piece of interactive theatre, it brought to mind Hannah Jane Walker and Chris Thorpe’s The Oh Fuck Moment, but here we were talking less about ourselves and more about the world at large. The performances had the right level of friendliness and control, the imagery and film-work were slick and illuminating. If the overall concept is a strange one, The New Ten Commandments makes a potent and engrossing night out.
Two hours later and ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ becomes ‘Don’t Kill People Who Don’t Want To Be Killed.’ Better? Discuss.