By Hannah Wilkin
A torn up love letter in a Metro carriage.
A phone box that rings as you walk past.
A news story about an injury in a bell tower with no explanation.
What if these oddities were purposefully placed to distract you from the important things around you or as a way of controlling your conversation? The concept for The Department of Distractions is a spine-tingling one that set my mind ticking. I was desperate to see it and in the days before kept noting every bizarre detail I saw in the world.
As we entered Northern Stage we were greeted by an intriguing set. A workshop or office space with Polaroid photographs covering the walls. There were workbenches and pencil pots, an area to make coffee and underneath a workbench there was a man sleeping. I almost missed him at first. The skill of the department lies in placing the unusual in the every day; so subtle you might not notice it.
The lights were dimmed and on the office wall a man’s face appeared, projected onto the noticeboard. He introduced himself as Lockhart and congratulated us on our entrance to the department. He applauded us on our expertise in noticing things that were out of place in the world, little details that could easily go unnoticed. He appealed to a part of us that deep down believes we are special, that wants our astuteness to be recognised. We had been selected to begin our first jobs in the department, working at street level to scatter lost toys through the city. The atmosphere in the theatre was tingling.
It was a fantastic opening; you could feel everyone in the room leaning forward in their seats, completely hooked. After this opening however the drama seemed to fall a little flat. The main issue for me was that we were told too much. A lot of the intrigue and beauty of The Department of Distractions is the mystery they weave, by explaining all of their work it left very little to the imagination. I also longed for something more of a twist in the play or perhaps some kind of revelation about the characters who worked in the department. Though there were little snippets of dialogue that were entertaining it didn’t really cause a reaction in the audience because there was such a lull in between.
This all changed however when the team began to enact the current project they were working on, the disappearance of a traffic and travel announcer. This tale was so full of mystery and intrigue, twists and turns and surprise that we were yet again drawn back in. There was one particular scene that left the whole audience in fits of laughter; it felt like we were sharing a joke with the characters and from here on you could feel the audience interest being peaked again.
Overall The Department of Distractions was a quirky, intriguing and entertaining watch that I’d highly recommend despite my few qualms. The cast used the set, sound and lighting in interesting ways and the story was one you wanted to believe in.
Perhaps my initial confusion and frustration was intentional. The Department of Distractions’ delights in perplexing us with unfinished stories of intrigue. Maybe I will be receiving an invitation to the department soon…