Why do we do what we do? Is life a series of random chaotic moments, or are we on a path of destiny? How to we make choices? If You Decide to Stay, Sylvia Rimat’s charming and endearing new show, is about the here and now: a celebration of the fact that somehow life has conspired to bring this particular set of people together in this particular room at this particular time. Sitting in these particular seats. To shake things up a bit, to challenge destiny (perhaps) and to wake our brains from the usual theatre-seat passive slump (certainly), she asks us to look around, then if we wish to change our seat. To have a second chance to make a conscious decision about where we want to be sitting. The space is charged with energy, people giggle and chatter, there’s a fair bit of moving and shuffling – and as everyone settles down in a new ‘seating constellation’ there is a far more alert feeling in the room. This, we realise is not going to be your usual sort of theatre show. Sylvia congratulates us: ‘You’ve made it!’
We’ve only got an hour but that hour is a riveting one: time flies when you’re having fun. Sylvia mixes assured and engaging address – she has the confident and relaxed vibe of a stand-up comedian or a music hall artist, making everyone feel that she is talking directly to them – with video footage (stars, maps, meadows ‘ there’s a meadow in my head’), and pop songs (Mick Jones’ Should I Go or Should I Stay? is a perfect soundtrack for the show’s theme). There’s a comfy chair, on which she sits to read a letter to her would-be psychotherapist, Sue. There’s a blackboard on which she writes mind-bogglingly long numbers reflecting the statistical possibilities of seating arrangements. There are voiceovers from mathematician Dr Gaurav Malhotra, helping us to understand something of the nature of chance and statistics, and from neuroscientists and astrologers, giving opposing – or possibly complementary – views on the workings of our minds and our relationship to the universe. Again and again we return to the amazing, wonderful realisation that regardless of how and why – we are here. We are here – now!
The absurd is always close to hand: at one point the artist, reflecting on the decision-making processes in creating the show, ponders on the possibility of introducing a live cockerel into the stage setting. She opts instead for a white rabbit costume – or at least, she offers us a choice: white rabbit, or St Martin – the saintly Roman soldier much admired in her native Germany for sharing his cloak with a stranger. We choose the rabbit – perhaps all audiences do. It’s a very foolish rabbit suit, with floppy ears and a bobtail and she looks very becoming in it. Sylvia asks for an audience volunteer to play St Martin, and a gentleman in the front row is dutifully kitted out in helmet, cloak and toy sword. This and other moments of audience interaction are handled with great charm and warmth. Much later in the show, another audience member is sent off to the Co-op next door to buy snacks, after a collection (rather like the offertory at a mass) to raise funds.
Some shows hit you over the head with their ideas – some slip them to you gently using humour and warm personal engagement. If You Decide to Stay is certainly in the second category. It’s a total delight from start to finish. And yes – we get to eat the snacks. I’m very glad I came. I’m very glad I stayed. I hope, sometime before the world ends, to find myself once again in the same place, at the same time, as Sylvia Rimat.