Bit of Kafka. Bit of a party. Bit of a school play vibe, but in the most stunning waterfront location in London you’ve probably not yet discovered. Trinity Buoy Wharf, midway between the thrusting towers of Canary Wharf and the dinky airport at London City, has such a grand collection of warehouses, lighthouse, ships, cellars and an old-school American Diner that it’s amazing more theatre companies haven’t seized on it for site-specific fun and games.

So kudos to Fourth Monkey, the streetwise and slightly alternative theatre school (and half the fees of Mountview or ArtsEd) for claiming it as their island bastion on which they’ve set a version of Kafka’s short story ‘In The Penal Colony’. It tells of an anonymous ‘Visitor’ (and there’s plenty of unexplained anonymity, militaristic authority and sinister motive as befits any Kafka piece) who is introduced to a macabre machine which tattoos the crime of its victim on his skin whilst taking twelve hours to kill him.

As an instrument of execution it’s scarcely more efficient than recruiting fifty actors to take two and a half hours to tell a short story, setting it in the context of a 1960′s hop with dance band and board games and marching your audience between buildings in the freezing cold, but the conviction and enthusiasm of the young cast cannot be mocked: Fourth Monkey uses the Meisner Technique (that’s the other cult interest of Tom Cruise apart from Scientology btw) and their immersion in the improvisation and commitment to the project can’t be dislodged or faulted.

The audience visits the dank cellar in which ‘the machine’ is housed in shifts and the rest of the time relaxes at the period party, playing games, listening to music and sharing boiled sweets and downtime with pretty girls in print frocks and cardigans who appear lobotomised as the less visibly brutal period of the colony’s history is gradually revealed.

Now the snow’s gone, well worth a visit.

Project Colony continues at Trinity Buoy Wharf until 27 April.  Tickets from the Fourth Monkey website

JohnnyFox received tickets and hospitality from Mobius PR

Image by Brendan James Ryan

Londonist Originally published on Londonist