Two friends and I headed to the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, last Saturday night for an evening of ‘fashion and conversation’. As a shy type, nothing enables me more to have enlightening conversations, than a beautiful and well-fitted dress. Therefore I was eagerly anticipating Untitled Projects’ The Salon Project for its second night on a sold out run.
Founded in 1998, Untitled Projects create ‘events’ that encourage audiences to break out of ‘the cult of now’ and make discoveries about themselves and society through productions that, in their own words, ‘re-assess how theatre can manifest itself’. Built in the Victorian era, the Citizens was a perfect choice of venue for The Salon Project, which recreates the exclusive parties held during the height of 19th Century age of excess and inquiry.
On arrival, the audience (high female to male ratio) were taken backstage to wardrobe – we’d all sent our measurements in advance. An outfit could make or break a night for a girl, but there was no cause for concern as all the outfits were stunning, as you would expect from costumes used by the likes of Scottish Opera. I was dressed by helpful assistants in a Disney Princess style cream corseted floor length gown, before getting an impressive hair and make-up job that belied the fact that it only took them a few minutes.
Ushered into a line and down a corridor, we admired one another, before the doors were opened and we emerged into a stunning bright room (the stage with a fourth wall). Chandeliers, gramophones, waiting staff with bubbly – it was a truly fantastic reveal. Initially left to our own devices, we amassed around the mirrors, talking in our new selves, and snapping photographs on our phones, which felt slightly discordant with the setting.
Based purely on outfits, our group of three quickly concocted a scenario where one was a dame trying to marry off the other two – one an untameable party girl and the other an easy to take advantage of ingenue. The attire-affect was interesting to observe. In fact, during the first five minutes, we talked quite a bit at base level, as if concerned that the clothing and situation was affecting how we knew ourselves to act and talk. It’s funny how much we fight stepping out of our self-defined box.
You are given time to take in the setting, your appearance, stand up a little straighter and feel the flush of bubbles before any semblance of performance begins. Some light conversation between two micro-phoned guests helps you gauge that this is more observational than interactive theatre and that you are to be yourself and not an imagined character from the past, which relaxed the audience and opened up the movement and flow between groups and conversations.
There were three modes of entertainment during our evening, including thought-provoking speeches to cultivate conversations, performance art and music – varied and interesting, they dispelled thoughts that maybe we had paid for the privilege to play dress-up and be given a nice location in which to enjoy a couple of drinks.
Between each ‘performance’ a new group of audience members joined the Salon, which made for a fleeting feeling of superiority, as we watched their entrance, many poised with a half-smile in an attempt to hide the fact that they were frantically assessing the situation so they could quickly adopt the correct face and stance.
As it drew towards the end, I felt a little wanting for more drama, more performance, but I think that’s a reflection of me more than the play (I’m the kind of annoying person that likes there to be a drama at a party that I am close to but not directly involved in). I think more drama would have been less authentic to its vision as it would have infringed on the headspace allowed to the audience to think things through, such as whether your identity is more routed to time & place than you imagine it to be.
Unfortunately, I felt that the ending didn’t have enough belief in itself or its audience. As we all gathered in the one area for a group photo; noise arose causing the stage to vibrate; it felt like something, anything could happen. What did play out, involving two young girls, samurai swords and a TV screen showing a bloodbath (say what?!?), felt like a forced attempt to create an ambiguous ending to disguise the fact that it was most likely meaningless.
It was a fantastic experience, despite the ending. I wouldn’t recommend it universally, but definitely to those who enjoy debating issues with an open mind, and who like feeling fancy from time-to-time.