Details Unknown

Last night we went to the Penguin Plays Rough event at the Justice and Police Museum: the Grand Finale of the Details Unknown evenings. On previous evenings in the series people have presented stories, songs, and videos inspired by this photo from the museum’s archives.

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For the grand finale, PPR handed things over to unhappen, an experimental theatre group that used the 18 pieces produced for the previous nights to create an interactive evening of experimental carry-on. There was a weird pas-de-deux in which to actors dressed in nighties enacted a bedroom murder over and over, alternating the parts of visitor and murdered woman (it didn’t seem to matter that one of the actors was male, the other female), and varying their actions in accordance with words typed by audience members. There was a silly puppet theatre. In one tiny courtyard a 1940s police photographer took mug shots. We could stand around watching a tattooed prisoner languish in her cell, though other people told me that when they went into that room they were offered a stick of opium (which turned out to be a chocolate bullet). My favourite of the small sideshows was the interrogation room, in which, though we’d been promised that interactivity did not mean audience participation, relatively unsuspecting audience members were grilled by a slightly demented pair of detectives as possible witnesses to the woman’s murder – I saw at least four people being questions, and sometimes virtually accused, and was impressed by how well they reacted under pressure: other people ran screaming from the room as soon as they realised what was happening.

The museum was originally a police station, and included a small courtroom. In that courtroom we could sit in the gallery, or perhaps it was jury seats, while one actor after another read a story that told how the woman died. We could, if we chose, draw images on butchers’ paper as we listened, and those images were hung on the walls of the murder bedroom.

It was great fun. We were promised a reward at 10 pm, but my little group had been out to midnight the night before at Flickerfest and up early, so we sloped off after only two hours or so. Penguin Plays Rough’s future is not clear. If there is to be a hiatus, it’s good that they’ve gone out with such a bang.

Usually Penguin Plays Rough has a number of wild cards – people who put their names down on the night and read something. That didn’t happen last night, but I wrote 14 rhyming lines anyhow:

Details Unknown
She’s dead, and though it may seem foolish
to make up stories, sing new songs
about her image, even ghoulish
imagining what dreadful wrongs
she may have suffered, or what shocking
act may have unclipped that stocking,
what cruel or pathetic scene
involved that true-crime magazine,
her death derides out pale inventions:
silent, name and tale unknown,
this monument of film, not stone,
though made for plain police intentions
commands our eyes: Attention here.
A life snuffed out. Be still. Revere

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