Von Sarfraz Manzoor
29.06.2012 / The Guardian
It is the show that turns dry census statistics into live performance theatre. Staged by Berlin company Rimini Protokoll, 100% London aims to tell the story of the capital through the stories of 100 inhabitants, each of whom represents 1% of the city's 7.8 million people.
Since 50% of London is male, so 50 of the 100 cast members had to be male. 11% of London lives alone so 11 of the cast members had to live alone. All non-actors, the final 100 range in age from five monthsto 83-years-old. "It was easy at the start but it got progressively more difficult," said producer Sherry Neyhus. "By the end we were desperate for a single white British dad with a four-year-old kid."
The show began with the casting of one person, who was then given 24 hours to recruit another, and so on. It did not take long before the system broke down, perhaps illustrating the siloed nature of London's various communities. "We found that it was very hard to leap from one group to another," said joint director Helgard Haug. "When we got to number 37 in the chain we realised we had no one from a Pakistani background."
Bizarrely, neither the 37th person nor any of the previous recruits knew of anyone with Pakistani heritage who would participate. Haug and Kaegi were forced to advertise in a local paper, eventually recruiting Faryal Khan. "I had no idea what to expect but I did find it surprising that no-one could find a Pakistani," she said. "They should have come to my part of London."
The lastest incarnation of a show that started with 100% Berlin four years ago, 100% London, co-commissioned by the London 2012 Festival, is one of a number of cultural events examining the capital in the lead-up to Olympics, ranging from Mike Leigh's short film A Running Jump, about an East End family's relationship to sport, to The World in London, an exhibition of photographs of 200 Londoners, each born in one of the competing nations..
In the show, the cast tell stories from their lives and answer questions about their habits, beliefs and lifestyles to create a live interactive human opinion poll.
At one point in the show the group have to congregate under a light if they have, for example, survived cancer, are looking for a partner, want to ban the burqa in public life or if they have contemplated suicide. "Normally you have statistics," said joint director Stefan Kaegi, "but here you can see the faces instead of just the numbers."
The exception comes when the Londoners are asked about their income. "We turn the lights down and then ask who earns more than £3,000 a month," said Neyhus, "and they if they do they indicate by turning their mobile phones on – so all you see are dots of light."
The categories used in 100% London do not explicitly refer to religion, sexuality or disability, which means that the selected 100 are not statistically representative in those categories. Jaqueline Petersen is one of only three people in the show who identify as gay. "I answered an ad because it seemed intriguing, and at the follow-up interview they asked me lots of questions to work out what I could contribute to the show," she said. "My role is to ask the other people on stage whether they think the church should say yes to gay marriage."
Petersen and Khan have become friends, indicating how the show can help make connections between the cast and amongst the audience. For Helgard Haug, 100% London is an opportunity for the audience and cast to engage with each other and ask questions they would never get the chance to do in everyday life. "This is documentary theatre," she said. "You come to the show and see a cross-section of the city that you live in up on the stage."