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The Department of Distractions

Distraction - a thing that prevents someone from concentrating on something else

extreme agitation of the mind

For centuries many renowned writers have posited that there is an underlying control in the world, a control that decides what is classed as ‘the norm’, what is an exception and even what we should feel about them. The New World Order, Big Brother, HUAC and even the Royal Family have all been cited in both fiction and fact as having this control, yet in the modern world with near instantaneous sharing of news and views, it would appear that it is the media that has overall and total control.

The Department of Distractions (based on Alex Kelly’s book O Grande Livro dos Pequenos Detalhes) is set in the afore mentioned government department, a department responsible for creating, releasing and managing ‘news’ to ensure the status quo is maintained, though for whom this is to remain is left to the audience’s own appraisal. ‘News’ in this definition is not only the broadcasted retelling of ‘fact’ but also the everyday events that people witness on the street, the shared gossip at work, the viral memes on social media and the perpetual revisiting of myth and urban legends – all managed to create control. The audience is given a peek into the working day of the department, how they choose a ‘target’, how they agree which distractions need to be created, which ‘sleight of hand’ techniques to deploy. To the team, this is as procedural and ordinary as any other office job – albeit one which directly controls what the world believes to be truth.

Alexander Kelly, writer and co-director with Rachel Walton, has melded the dystopian undercurrents of Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov and punched them squarely into the breadbasket of global media giants a la BBC, Sky, Fox (well the Murdochs in general). What is brilliant is that whilst many would suggest this is science fiction, there is too much recognisable fact not to question whether this show is instead a well-crafted piece of distraction itself. After all, there’s no better place to hide than in plain sight.

The cast, Umar Ahmed, Nick Chambers, Stacey Sampson and Rachel Walton have a real challenge for they have to deliver on multiple layers at once – not only are they playing the department team, but also they enact and rehearse the characterisation of their Distraction’s cast. This is done brilliantly, never once creating any confusion whilst still allowing each layer to realise it’s own revelations. The clever use of projection allows the audience to see 1st hand the research and material used to compile a case – meticulous in detail but quite procedural, giving more substance to the feeling that these Distractions and the untruths they purport are simply tasks on an office to do list. There is something very unsettling about thinking the world around you and everything you believe could be built on post it notes and Polaroids.

More scary than a horror story, the Department of Distractions leaves the audience with a puzzled and concerned frown – not because you are unable to understand but because this expose rings too many bells, shatters the illusion of Utopia through Ignorance and makes you question every headline, every news feed, every shared opinion. I have long believed that man is incapable of having a truly original thought, everything is but a reaction and after watching this wonderful production, I spent the train ride home convinced that we could all be just characters in a global sandbox game. My final thought (at least I think it was MY thought) was of a classic quote - "the finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist" - Charles Baudelaire - possibly the greatest Distraction of all ?

Definitely recommended and be prepared to see the world in a very different light afterwards.

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