Just five minutes’ walk from the glare and yowl of Oxford Street is an entirely different kind of market: a pop-up theatre on four floors that offers a sparkling range of performances from eleven different companies, as well as a suitably decadent cabaret bar. The Souk is the latest idea from Theatre Delicatessen: a mini-festival of new work with a £7 entry fee and an invitation to haggle over prices for each of the shows within. The event opens at 7pm, and with a bit of careful planning you could see pretty much everything before the shows end around 10.30. There are also two bars selling wine, beer and some excellent value moustaches.
I loved Flabbergast Theatre‘s Puppet Poker Pit, a funny, Faustian adventure following the fates of two priapic, foul-mouthed puppets, Boris and Sergey. Tom Ellen’s funny, mournful play Uzbekistan Airlines (named after the former inhabitants of the building) is also a treat, as a disillusioned employee turns his office — literally — into a beach, and faces the consequences. And Keiko Sumida‘s Counter Number 8 offers a quiet, contemplative one-on-one experience, hidden away amidst the noise and bustle of the rest of the souk, as a mysterious fox offers challenging life advice. But the show that has stayed with me, staged in just about the most challenging space possible, is Natural Shocks‘ Between Life and Nowhere, a haunting aerial romance that delivers a real emotional punch.
Theatre Souk is low budget but high ambition, and like BAC’s One-on-One festival this summer it creates a delicious, participatory atmosphere, as strangers wander round the building comparing notes, experiences and tips: more than one person I spoke to was planning to come back for more. If there’s a lesson for more established venues as the arts cuts start to bite, it’s that building connections between the audience, and creating a sense of belonging, is just as important as what’s on the stage.