Greeted by the ominous disembodied legs of a kidnapped David Cameron being serenaded by a house remix of the Attenzione Pickpocket! lady from TikTok, I knew I was in for a unique start to this Fringe season. Chatham House Rules is a searing hot, poetically rampant, and infinitely chaotic potpourri attack on modern life in Britain. No target is spared in Louis Rembges’ solo performance, that takes aim at predatory social media algorithms, so-called ‘troll armies’ wrecking havoc online, pretentious and sinister multi-national tech corporations, and a certain pig-maligned former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Rembges takes on the mononym ‘Host’, embodying their life role as multitalented but undervalued barista, waiter, mixologist, cloakroom attendant and, later on, mere “toilet pointer”. The crux of this piece explores Host’s relationship to Hospitality agency work, which finds them soon signed up to work at a top secret conference hosted by the Myopic Corporation. This gives the piece its’ title, which for the uninformed refers to a rule whereby top secret information from a meeting can only be divulged without revealing who was attending that meeting. Host is also a recovering social media addict, who self-admittedly had allowed their entire raison d’etre to be taken over by finding the most memeable content.
If you’re not sure where all this is going so far, that’s exactly the point. Chatham House Rules looks to blend together the social conditioning of the online world with the adverse and austerity-induced poor social conditions of over a decade of Tory austerity and self-indulgent grandstanding. Host’s relapse into social media as they arrive at the conference coincides with the opportunity of a life-time, to come face to face with the man that the piece only refers to as ‘Pigfucker’ (no, really). The show explores how our desperate-for-clicks generation gorges on the meme-ability of our politicians in place of finding genuine points of activist-led inflection that could create genuine change. It doesn’t seek to blame our social media addiction for our political lethargy, however, but repurpose our tethered minds and media as an attack charge on years of malignant establishment lies.
This is explored both in Host’s relationship to media and politics but also in their personal life, which is equally as chaotic as their relationship to the online. The difference between the social real and the social immaterial dissipates in the gaps that are left by vacuous shitposting on Instagram and endless para-social doom-scrolling on TikTok, and Rembges brings it to light with such vibrant poetic lucidity that you easily find yourself dragged in. They engage in parasocial relationships both online and in reality, covertly recording conversations with their co-workers, all of whom they have created vile and hateful nicknames for in place of their given identities. Soon this expands to the romantic, as Host indulges in fantasies with a co-workers that ultimately see them with a mouth full of cum in a broom cupboard. The piece is written in a codec of spirited and lyrical poetic tone, which punctures any opportunity to sit back and relax and instead throws you through tumultuous ups-and-downs of Host, a shitposter both online and in reality.
I say that Rembges is a solo performer, but in truth he is joined by a large screen at the back of the stage that blares out snippets of popular online content in between, and sometimes within, the scenography. From ‘Here Comes The Boy’ to ‘Attenzione Pickpocket’, the piece displays such literacy in the canon of internet memology (imagine reading that sentence back to a Pilgrim) that it entrances and traps you, leaving you wondering where on Earth the plot is going the whole way and what the show is trying to say. Your thematic patience is rewarded within the literal closing seconds of the piece, as Rembges delivers a gut-wrenching blow to the pain that Tory austerity and indulgence has caused our society. I feel this piece would make a good accompaniment to Eleanor Hill’s Sad-Vents which I reviewed at VAULT Festival, although the social media integration is done much better in CHR.
Rembges performs both as Host and as the other falsely-named characters throughout the piece, with highlights including ‘Deadbehind Theeyes’ appearing on a Zoom call on the screen behind with monotonous Zuckerberg flair (or lack thereof, for truth’s sake). My reservations on this piece arise on Rembges’ performance of some of these characters. While all their names are hilarious, I sometimes wasn’t aware precisely who was speaking when he jumped between the characters. The David Cameron impression that arrives at a timely pace halfway through is brilliantly performed, with an acerbic sense of purpose, but I sometimes wasn’t quite sure who Rembges was playing, especially when he jumped between his co-workers at the conference. A little more distinction in physical characteristic and tone of voice would help to vary this more, and provide some needed consistency in pacing these sections out. Host, however, is a delightfully sickening character to spend an hour with, and the whole thing flies by under their control.
I’m also not sure the piece has a precise sense of what Chatham House Rules actually are, as it seems to imply that those rules stop Host from leaking any kind of information from the conference they attend. In truth, Chatham House Rules simply mean the person speaking at an event cannot be identified publicly, but the words they say are permissible in publication. This distinction is never really drawn on, though this is a wholly semantic point that doesn’t really matter in terms of the piece’s message. Especially when considering the searing satire and precise braising that the piece throws at establishment politics.
Rembges is a powerful performer with important things to say, Chatham House Rules allows him to wax lyrical in a deeply creative way, and I feel empowered and emboldened in my critique of Tory politics as a result. It’s a bold, endlessly artistic representation of modern times that allows us to open up criticisms of our own points of inflection on systems of power without ever disempowering a marginalised voice. Oh, and there’s that bit where he spits cum all over himself too.
Daring, fearless, and fucking hilarious – Chatham House Rules skewers establishment politics and social media with finesse and fancy.
Recommended Drink: Chatham House Rules is best paired with any of those cocktails you can get lit on fire at fancy cocktail bars – because a convenient Molotov Cocktail seems fitting for this show.
Catch Chatham House Rules at Pleasance Courtyard – Bunker One until August 28th (not the 14th) at 13:00. Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.
Photo Credit: Lucy Hayes