Flood: Abundance review – Hull stages a windswept maritime mystery

Victoria Dock, Hull
As a feat of logistics, this thrilling odyssey played out on water looks likely to be a highlight of Hull’s year as UK City of Culture

When the waters rise, Hull may be the first UK city to disappear, given that 95% of the metropolitan area stands on a flood plain. So it was a bold move for the UK City of Culture to include such a prophecy of doom as this year-long, multi-platform project about a watery end of days. You also have to applaud the commitment of an audience – for whom the devastating floods of 2007 are still fresh in the memory – prepared to huddle around a windswept dock in plummeting April temperatures to witness an enactment of the city’s inundation. But as a feat of logistics, Flood is likely to stand as one of the highlights of the year.

Presented by Slung Low with a text by James Phillips, Flood Part 1 is an online film that forms a prelude to this live event. Part 3 will follow on BBC television in the summer, with a grand conclusion to be staged at Victoria Dock in October. Although each segment is intended to stand independently, a viewing of the prelude is helpful to make sense of the occasionally oblique mythology expounded by Phillips’ narrative. In the film, a trawler captain and his son dredge up an ominous haul of orange lifejackets, along with one miraculous survivor – a young, blind woman of seemingly Arabic origin whose skin is marked with mysterious tattoos.

The live show begins with the woman’s interrogation at a floating detention centre, while the the captain and his son come under investigation for trafficking in illegal migrants. An unexplained conflagration at the centre releases asylum-seekers into the city, while incessant rain suggests that the woman may be some meteorological prophet of doom.

It almost defies belief that the cast conclude a chilly evening by plunging into the water.
It almost defies belief that the cast conclude a chilly evening by plunging into the water. Photograph: Thomas Arran

Slung Low have become famed for their proprietary headset technology, in which soundtrack and dialogue are delivered to the audience by means of individual transmitters. In this case, you are issued with miniature telescopes as well, without which it would be very difficult to perceive the fine detail of Alan Lane’s production, floating 50 metres away in the middle of the harbour. Given the static nature of the performance, it’s perhaps surprising that the great majority of its 90-minute duration is spent squinting at intimate, interior scenes that would surely benefit from closer proximity.

Yet Slung Low are masters of the explosive grand gesture, and in this regard Flood does not disappoint. The immolation of the detention centre and the fireball of a helicopter crash are both eyebrow-singeing coups; and you have to admire the almost megalomaniacal impulse to control the weather, although the hyperactive sprinkler system must be the first instance in which an outdoor theatre performance has attempted to induce its own rain.

It almost defies belief that the hardy cast conclude a chilly evening by plunging into the freezing waters of the harbour. Immersive theatre does not come any more immersive than this.

• At Victoria Dock, Hull, until 15 April.


Alfred Hickling

The GuardianTramp

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