Before entering 100 Seel Street, the brief was to wrap up warm, wear sensible shoes and make sure we’ve been to the loo before it started. Words of wisdom for promenade theatre and life itself indeed; and in a small group of no more than a dozen, when the grand front door swung open, we were led inside.
The piece was a sell-out event largely by word of mouth alone. Three performances a night over the last three days, 100 Seel Street was the first in what will be a series of pop up works over the next 12 months from the Alligator Club, a new professional collective of North West playwrights with links to theatres including the Playhouse and was produced by Liverpool writers all with links to the venue to boot; Lizzie Nunnery (Intemperance, Unprotected, The Swallowing Dark)and Joe Ward Munrow (Held) in association with Jeff Young (Anthology) and Ella Greenhill (Into the Water, The Deafening Silence).
If wandering around a dark, dilapidated old Georgian townhouse sounds a bit Scooby-Doo, you’d be half right; 100 Seel Street is as unsettling as it is beautiful. The experience is intense, with no light in the gloom. We are first led into a sitting room where a huddled figure awaited us. Would he put us at ease, tell us what is going on and what we’re in for? Not quite. Our host, guide – narrator after a fashion – was mute.
He desperately communicated with his eyes, pouring some of us tea and offering biscuits, carving the word ‘hello’ into the dust of the window. The Mute (Nick Moss) went on to lead us up and down the house to reveal scenes in the rooms, from the rafters to the basement, candles and bare lightbulbs lighting the dark to illuminate the imagined secrets of the house.
It was not a comfortable piece of theatre, but a challenging work that audience members were left to piece together with each little reveal, whether it was a spoken piece of dialogue or a room as vignette – covered in dust, old toys and children’s chalk drawings.
We met The Mother (Aisling Leyne), sat on the floorboards of a bedroom, compulsively folding paper birds; The Little Girl (Tmesis Theatre’s Elinor Randle); and The Father (Josh Moran), all of whom left our guide visibly upset and confused with the memories they evoked. The walls talked, adding eerie soundscapes to our tour. Sometimes props took on a life of their own to give the audience a start. A comparison can be made with For the Best, a promenade piece around the Gostins building a couple of years ago, that worked in much the same way.
It is the kind of work that stays with you and sinks in after the event, as surely was the intent. We made our exit through the basement and out into the back yard, illuminated with candles and flame, for one last look up at the house and its ghosts. A fascinating piece taking less than an hour, those curious enough to take on 100 Seel Street would have been rewarded with a truly one of a kind event.