Saturday, 13 October 2007

REVIEW: "Rider Spoke" (Blast Theory)

There’s no point on beating around the bush, so I will get all of the superlative-laden puns out of the way. Rider Spoke, the new work of environmental interactive theatre by video-game influenced company Blast Theory, is a bomb. A total dud. It fizzles out the minute you leave the Barbican, and only becomes entertaining because what it entails is entertaining outside of the event. In short, you can reconstruct Rider Spoke for free, and with far fewer privacy concerns.

For the uninformed, Rider Spoke involves leaving the Barbican on a bicycle with a wi-fi enabled portable media player and recorder in exchange for a hard copy of the participant’s credit card details. Bicycle-challenged attendees can rent a bike or, if they are incapable of riding, go by foot after receiving nasty looks from the company. The participant wanders around as much of London as they can get to, and the machine asks the rider questions of an open and increasingly personal nature at 8-12 minute intervals. Questions start with “What’s your name and where are you?” and continue to “Tell us about a party where you were an outsider” and “Make us a promise of some sort.” Once faced with a question, the rider must find a “hiding place” to record their answer.

After the box has your data, participants can pull up an answer to each others’ answers, based on the three nearest recorders. This is repeated for 45 minutes, when the players are given their final question and orders to return in the next 15 minutes. Upon returning to the Barbican, the recordings are uploaded to Blast Theory’s archives and passed on to a professor at the University of Nottingham for research while the user’s financial paperwork is returned. In other words, participants are paying to be test subjects while putting their financial data at risk.

While there is some joy in the voyeuristic aspects of the event, participants are basically paying to do something they can do just as easily without having to pay £5-10 - getting lost in the middle of London. Should someone wish to add a touchy-feely aspect, they can call random friends and leave comments on their voicemail. The result is similar, and calling ones’ voicemail would take significantly less time than waiting for the Blast Theory boxes to download updates (something which brings the evening to a halt for up to five minutes every time a question gets answered). As someone who enjoys wandering the city on his own, Rider Spoke felt like a waste of money and an evening - the evening’s screening of Ratatouille (playing at the Barbican cinema) would almost certainly have been a more engaging and intellectual experience.

Where: Barbican, lower level
When: Nightly 5PM-9PM, departures every 15 min.
Cost: £5 if you bring a bike, £10 if you need a rental. Rental includes helmet and reflector strap.
Concessions: None.
RZ unofficial “worth paying”: Nothing. Avoid this unless you’re required to go for class or work like the RZ was.
RZ other notes: Not kidding about the nasty looks issue above - the Blast Theory people looked at me like I’d sprouted a second head when I said I had to go for class but couldn’t ride a bike. The wifi boxes also lack any sort of GPS, so unless you know the area (defeats the purpose of wandering and getting lost), you’re stuck relying upon a bike path map to find your way back - not easy when it’s dark and you’re on fairly deserted streets. The RZ wound up getting quite lost (rather enjoyable) and needing to take the tube back (not so enjoyable) to avoid getting his credit card unfairly dinged for holding the box too long. And no, he didn’t get a £5 refund against being forced to buy a rental ticket.

1 comment:

Anthropometry said...

I've just experience Rider Spoke at the Brighton Festival and had a similarly disappointing time. It claims to be "part theatre" and involves "drama". No it doesn't. It it involves clever technology and no art. It actually makes cycling around town at night a duller experience, a remarkable achievement indeed.