The cast of From the Ground Up. Photograph: Almeida
The cast of From the Ground Up. Photograph: Almeida

We are rather familiar with binary choices these days – leave or remain, independence or union, Clinton or Trump.

Our views on these issues unite and divide us, and depending on how you look at it, they can define us.

From the Ground Up is an immersive performance devised by the Almeida young company touching on the binary decisions that matter.

Written by the co-founder of the pioneering and provocative Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed, it asks the hardest of questions directly to its audience.

Performed underneath Shoreditch Town Hall, the audience is led from the foyer to the street, and down into the recesses of the building.

On the way a fellow audience member suggested turning on her pedometer. Indeed the signs suggested it would be us, rather than the company, doing all the legwork.

The Almeida’s education department enjoys an excellent reputation, and is not afraid to challenge their young members with alternative and contemporary theatrical forms.


This show was no different – not quite a play, not quite live art, in fact it was more of a lo-fi game show experience where the only answers were yes and no and the only questions devilishly difficult moral dilemmas.

“Are you afraid of interactive theatre?” A stifled laugh. “Are you afraid that we might ask you to do something?” A terrified silence.

Once we were numbered and the preliminary assessments made, the real questioning began. Are benefit cheats unforgiveable? Does race matter?

Half of the group watched whilst the rest wrangled with their moral compass. Is monogamy idealistic? Would you fight for peace?

Absent of ‘actors’ in the traditional sense, the ‘stage’ became something else too – a means to view each other, and ourselves. With those who participated exercising their right to speak but at the high cost of being judged by everyone else.

And the company made it crystal clear that was what we were all doing: “Number 19 has never engaged in sexting” they would announce, exposing to the room any admission which had gone unnoticed.

Executing an unusual piece like this demands a huge amount of confidence and clarity from the performers, as well as the ability to put an audience immediately at ease.

The company had this in spades. The standard of work and the ability of the performers far outreaching their age and relative inexperience.

To create such intelligent, interrogative work and deliver it with such presence and panache, the fact that this cohort of 16-25 year olds is destined for great things is no longer in question.

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