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Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) review at Barbican Pit, London – ‘thought-provoking’

Lois Weaver in Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) at Barbican Pit, London. Photo: Theo Cote

In 2014, the ground-breaking lesbian feminist performance group Split Britches was touring Governor’s Island. Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw were told not to do any digging. You never know what you might find, the guide warned them: you might find an unexploded bomb.

These lost bombs, many of which are still live, are known as Unexploded Ordnances (UXO). They are a potential catastrophe lurking just beneath the surface of the earth.

In Shaw and Weaver’s show, they are used as a metaphor for buried potential. At each performance, a council of elders is assembled from the audience to share their wisdom within a recreation of Dr Strangelove’s war room. Under the guidance of the President (Weaver), they discuss their worries and unlived dreams. The discussion is interwoven with Claire Nolan’s video design inspired by Kubrick’s 1964 movie, emphasising the imminent end of world

The atmosphere is simultaneously frightening and hopeful. We are all afraid of the future; of nuclear of war, getting older, and ultimately death.

Shaw and Weaver layer the heavy tone of the show with moments of surreal, much-needed comedy. The audience participation is however made unusually formal by the war room setting and this creates an awkwardness as some of the onstage elders clearly feel uncomfortable.

Anxiety about time running out is a central theme. The audience is told to set its phone stopwatches so that alarms ring to signal when Shaw and Weaver are finally out of time. This isn’t like the movies, they remind us; in life the countdown is for real.

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