Soho is such a stomping ground for show-offs that, these days, it takes distractions of Blainean proportions to make anyone bat an eyelid. So it's a mark of Host Universal's originality, if nothing else, that when two actors perform 'Romeo & Julien' from the balcony overlooking Dean Street, some admittedly stroll underneath as if nothing untoward is happening, but others stop and listen, transfixed by the impromptu drama being played out above their heads. With an auditorium this cold and comfortless, that's no mean feat.
This is liberated theatre. Like a beast set free from its cage, theatre is running riot at Soho, invading the bar, hijacking the lift and hanging out in the ladies' loo. The one place you won't find Host Universal is in the theatre itself. The sketches, by the nature of the event, tend to be slight, lighthearted numbers, but the comedy works a treat on a crowd who have neither paid, nor expect to be entertained. Admittedly, it's hard to deduce whether people are sticking around because of the novelty factor, or because they're genuinely caught up in the stories.
But that's partly the point. Liberated is a free event, its items recycling themselves throughout the evening, so the element of chance and spontaneity is an essential part of the appeal. Go into the ladies loo and you'll be wondering if the women chatting in there are actors or a couple of obnoxious journalists slating a show they've just seen. They, of course, are happy to keep you guessing. Faced with the challenge of enticing new audiences to the theatre. Host Universal has come up with a promising solution. Take it to them. And take them by surprise.
Madeleine North, Time Out, November 5-12 2003
LONDON FOR FREE
If you go down to Soho today, you're in for a big surprise... The Edinburgh hit commandeers the bar, balcony, lift and loos of Soho Theatre, blurring the boundaries between performance and performer and the line between the real and the fake. That argument at the next table could be genuine, or the balcony scene could take an unexpected turn if you intervene, and what about that guy in the lift? One thing's for certain, nothing's certain.
Metro Life, 3 November 2003