Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) by Split Britches is an exploration of ageing, anxiety and ‘doomsday’ created through conversation and collaboration with an array of elders and artists. Developed between the UK and US, Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw have created a unique production, combining darkly playful Dr Strangelove-inspired performance with a daring new protocol for public discussion – the Situation Room.
The stage is set with an imposing round table, echoing Strangelove's iconic War Room. A Council of Elders are selected from the audience and invited to the table, to muse on 'The Situation': be it personal, political, local or global.
Peggy Shaw takes on the character of the bombastic general (played by George C. Scott in the film) and Lois Weaver assumes the gentile and ineffectual President (played by Peter Sellars) as dramaturgical engines for the conversation and as sources of comedy performance. Split Britches recall their old favourites of Mike Nichols and Elaine May as inspirations for duets on subjects of power, communication, relationship, gender and age. A metaphor for unexplored potential, particularly in elders, UXO aims to uncover the buried resources in all of us.
"One of the ingenious paradoxes and tensions of this piece is that the very thing our society needs more of — meaningful political dialogue — here becomes inimical to a thing we need even more badly: swift, decisive rescue." - Gay City News
"It is also wonderful to watch the rapport Ms. Weaver and Ms. Shaw have forged over shared decades. When the ringing cellphones mark the end of the show, you wish you could continue chatting at the bar around the corner — nuclear winter can wait." - The New York Times
The piece is laced with the sense of finite endings: the nuclear doomsday from Strangelove, relationship breakdown, our own mortalities. Countdowns are set, our phone alarms are primed to ring in 59 minutes, and the performers play with the rhythms of urgency and lethargy: acting as if our time is running out, or as though we have all the time in the world.
In the final part of the conversation, the audience at the table are asked to unfurl and read out some of our own unexploded ordnances - hidden desires written on crumpled scraps of paper, accumulated through each elders’ residency and performance.
Our individual dreams, hidden wishes, are re-appropriated as creative solutions to the Situation; as a hopeful, human response to what may feel like a gloomy geopolitical landscape.
As the performers play with the rhythms of urgency and lethargy, individual dreams and hidden wishes are re-appropriated as a cumulative solution to what may feel like an uncertain political landscape. Created and developed over two years through a series of residencies with elders and artists that began at the Barbican in 2016 and continued in the US, Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) is a hopeful, whimsical, human exploration of ageing, anxiety and the end of the world.
UXO is touring the UK in 2018. It's travelling to Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Wales Millenium Centre, Live Collision Festival, the Barbican, and Take Me Somewhere Festival. For more information and tickets visit our news page.
Trailer by Claire Nolan | Photography by Matt Delbridge & Theo Cote