At His Majesty’s pleasure

The past year has seen its fair share of civil unrest, ranging from the student protests and UK Uncut’s occupation of Topshop’s flagship store over boss Sir Philip Green’s tax avoidance, to more recent clashes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Aiming to harness and explore this surge of political energy, Old Vic New Voices has created a theatre-cum-feasting event Civil Unrest at London club Debut in the tunnels under London Bridge.

The poster for Civil Unrest
The poster for Civil Unrest

Before watching Ben Ellis’ play Unrestless, visitors will be served a dinner devised by chef Mark Jankel, peruse an exhibition by leading political artists and photographers and afterwards engage with a panel debate led by radical publishing house Verso Press.

The subterranean space will be transformed especially for the event by London-based studio and Hospital Club creatives in residence House of Jonn. The duo, comprised of Jordan Hodgson and Niall Gallacher, were briefed to create a space inspired by ‘a dystopian prison canteen’, says Hodgson.

A render of the Civil Unrest space created by House of Jonn
A render of the Civil Unrest space created by House of Jonn

In an attempt to avoid the obvious, the pair worked along with designer Thomas Greenall to research the prison system and how it is set to develop in the future. ‘We didn’t just want to do the Blade Runner approach,’ says Hodgson.

House of Jonn was intrigued by the gradual shift occuring in the prison service from being a state-run civil provision to a commercially-operated profit sector. The studio found a prison in Bolivia that is sponsored by Coca-Cola and decided to play with how this troubling concept might translate into a futuristic UK environment.

Hodgson says, ‘The foundations of the prison space plays with the saying that you’re there “at Her Majesty’s pleasure”, which is ironic as very few people choose to be there.’

The At His Majesty's Pleasure™ carrier bag by House of Jonn
The At His Majesty’s Pleasure™ carrier bag by House of Jonn

As a result the duo created the brand At His Majesty’s Pleasure™, a hybrid between the imagery used by the monarchy – in this case its presumed Prince Charles is King – and the Tesco Value identity. ‘It was the conflict between the two that was really interesting as Tesco Value is so stark whereas the Royal graphics are very refined.’

House of Jonn has used the brand to influence everything from packaging for Jankel’s dinner and the contraband Courvoissier punch to the immersive prison environment inside the brick vaulted arches. Two seemingly endless banqueting tables surrounded by a threatening scaffolding installation will transform into the theatre space after dinner has been served.

Gallacher says, ’For Civil Unrest, we are concerned with creating an immersive environment and memorable experience rather than just a static “design”. Our materials include light, space and behaviour as much as steel, fabric and ink.’

Without wanting to give too much about the night away, the experience sounds as though it’s going to be an harrowing, challenging and much needed look into the roots of civil unrest – with genuinely thought-provoking design work from House of Jonn.

Civil Unrest takes place at Debut, Weston Street, SE1 from 2-4 March.

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