13 Apr Conspiracy to Entertain | The Black Box Belfast
It’s something of an oddity that at this very moment serial killer, true crime and murder mystery documentaries are experiencing the height of their popularity. Once upon a time one had to pay a visit to the hallowed halls of the History Channel to get one’s fill of conspiracy theories. Albeit they were perhaps a little more far-fetched than what we see on Netflix today. Ahem, Nazi aliens, need I say more?
It could be argued that the zeitgeist of the past decade is Netflix & Chill. And the serial killer/true crime/murder mystery genre owes its popularity to the world’s proclivity for binge-able content with a dark side.
I’m no stranger to an ol’ true crime Netflix documentary myself. The last one I watched was Casting JonBenet (watch it). So, when I was invited to The Black Box in Belfast to see conspiracy theories in a another medium – a one-man performance – you can bet I was on-board. My Fox Mulder senses were tingling. I want to believe.
Conspiracy to Entertain
Directed, written and produced by Leah White, Conspiracy to Entertain discusses some of the world’s most compelling mysteries. From the disappearance of Madeleine McCann to the death of Princess Diana, this one-man performance looks at just some of the many explanations for that crucial, unanswered question – “What really happened?”
The shabby chic gloom of the Green Room in The Black Box Belfast made for an excellent venue. As we all took our seats, a track akin to the music at beginning of The Shining (watch the opening scene here) built a sense of trepidation. A single microphone was on-stage with a projector in the background.
Actor, Iain Dorrington, led this one-man show. Beginning with a definition of what we categorise as a conspiracy theory, he set the scene with an intensity and sobriety suitable for what is not exactly light subject matter.
Not exactly light indeed, we’re thrown in at the deep end with the death of Princess Diana. It’s a tragedy that you should have heard about before unless you’ve been living under a rock.
Killed tragically in a car accident, a great deal of scepticism is abound as to whether this accident had been planned. From photos of the accident to letters, allegedly written by Diana, concerned about a plot to kill her, it’s interesting having the story told and different theories discussed.
This was a new one for me. I didn’t realise that there were conspiracy theories around the sinking of the Titanic. Dorrington talks us through some of the theories that may suggest it wasn’t merely a tragic accident. This largely revolves around the theory that the Titanic was actually swapped for another ship, the Olympic, days before it was supposed to set sale. The motivation for swapping the ships, as the theory goes, is to do with an insurance scam gone wrong.
As we see images of the two ships compared, and photos of the sank Titanic, it’s easy to end up down the rabbit hole clutching a tin foil hat.
The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann
This more recent, very tragic mystery that continues to puzzle the world was perhaps better suited to live performance due to the wealth of media coverage. Aided by media on the projector, this case felt like the most compelling in the performance as Dorrington delved into a breakdown of what happened the evening 5 year old Madeleine McCann disappeared.
Yes, here we have it, the Mardi Gras for conspiracy theorists, 9/11. Video footage plays an important part for this segment and enhances a performance that has relied largely on spoken word and imagery thus far.
Despite the fact that video recording exists of 9/11 I’m always struck by how old it looks. In my head 2001 is pretty recent but it was actually… 19 years ago. So, the video footage we have of 9/11 is pretty grainy but nonetheless interesting. Dorrington delves into the media coverage on the day and the pretty unsettling incongruencies in the ‘official’ series of events. For instance, the idea that the planes flew through the towers has been questioned as some research suggests that this wouldn’t be possible.
Seeing conspiracy theories laid out in this medium causes us to question the compelling, entertaining element that we find within them. Indeed, as the audience is probed at one point as to whether we believed Madeline McCann’s parents played a part in her disappearance I was momentarily struck by smiles that filled the room as people sheepishly raised their hands. It was a stark juxtaposition with the serious subject matter. These conspiracy theories have very tragic, heartbreaking stories behind them and yet in the pursuit of finding that ever elusive answer to the question “What really happened?” there comes an undeniable element of entertainment that bubbles to the surface. The same way many people are obsessed with serial killer documentaries, we all have a darker, morbid side when it comes to entertainment, that we can’t quite seem to tear our eyes away from.
There was a turning point in the performance whenever the conspiracy theories became a little bit more niche. Positing conspiracy theories surrounding the moonlanding, California fires, Stevie Wonder & the Mandela effect, the performance moves from looking at the cases that continue to evade explanation towards a broader questioning of what we accept as “truth.” Some of the sources cited such as Odd TV may veer alarmingly close to tinfoil hat wearing, flat earth territory however these are levelled out by other sources presented to us and ultimately leave the power with the audience to make up their own mind.
There was certainly a lot to discuss on the journey home and I was left with a very distinct craving to watch the X-Files.
Many thanks to Leah White for the invitation to review Conspiracy to Entertain. Photography by Luis Patton Photography.
It may not be possible right now to get out to see gigs, plays and other performances however I highly recommend taking a look at The Black Box website to see what they have coming up in the next few months for something to look forward to. The Black Box is one of my favourite Belfast establishments and I can’t wait to get back there whenever things begin to return to normality.