Sitting in an abandoned Chimichangas across from a perfectly-lovely first date, it was the moment I heard myself saying ‘midget porn’ to a soft-spoken waiter with a Britney Spears head-mic that I began to question whether this was indeed the best place to make my best first impression.
“I can confirm the ice has now officially been broken,” the same waiter had said just minutes before. Just after I’d asked my dining partner how she thought she would die.
I am not a psychopath. Nor am I ordinarily much of an over-sharer. The reason – perhaps the only reason - my date wasn’t slowly reaching for her handbag, or sending whatever coded message would prompt a friend to call with some Very Important Emergency to excuse her from this situation was that it wasn’t really me asking.
The Binaural Dinner Date from ZU-UK is all about the range of very human, unapologetically intimate things that happen when you sit across the table from someone you know, or don’t yet know, or would like to know, or already love, and you talk.
You sit on small, circular tables with dark red tablecloths and a silver, old-fashioned microphone where a candle might otherwise be. You are instructed to select both a drink and question from the menu, and to put on the small earbud headphones in front of you.
From that point on, you’re in the hands of your hosts.
The immersive experience has earned rave reviews from London magazines and launched “at least ten” relationships. It came to Hereford last weekend as part of the Invisible Arts Network project to connect artists and technologists – professionally, I should add. This was not Graphic Designers Go Dating.
I was there with Rural Media. As was my boss. Listening in gleefully and unbeknownst to me from the shadows of the converted restaurant.
“Do you want to f**k this person?” the narrator asks, in a oddly-measured tone. “Or are they a bit of a c**t?”
Her monologue becomes your internal monologue, as the world shrinks slightly to include only the voice in your ear and a burning and intensely un-British amount of eye-contact.“Allow yourself to be looked at.
“Tell your date you like their nose. Tell them you like the unusual shape of it.
“Reach out,” the narrator in my ear directs me. “Take your partners hands, examine their lifelines. Now pick up the red pen and draw a small heart.”
“What would you tell your Dad if you could?”, I’m asked by my date, from a lollipop stick prompt. (“To give less of a f**k”)
“Years in to the relationship, your partner returns home to find you watching pornography. What kind of pornography were you watching?” the waiter asks. Two of my colleagues, five feet away, turn their heads.
Throughout the genuine humour and tension-breaking conversation starters (ISIS, ex-partners), the show allows in, almost through the back door, genuine moments of human connection, of introspection and intimacy and honesty that move you seamlessly from a willing sceptic, to being a part of the show, to being the show itself.
In Hereford - and I suspect in many other provincial towns - what-used-to-be Chimichangas is next door to Nando’s. That cathedral of slightly-spiced chicken has been the venue of a thousand pre-Odeon, fork-shuffling, ‘what music do you like?’ first dates. The majority of mine, I’m glad no-one else was listening to.
This, at least, was interesting.
“Everyone is going through the same things,” the narrator begins to close the evening with.
“Some of you have lost a loved one.” The waiter, now faux-forlorn and sitting outside having failed to find a willing stranger to participate in a fake date on a Hereford street exactly as quiet you’d expect a Hereford street to be on a cold, Sunday evening in mid-November.
“Some of you bite your nails. Some of you wish you could tell your Dad to give less of a f**k. Some of you…”
If you’re interested in arts, or tech, or doing things that are interesting but aren’t in an Odeon or a theatre or a Nando’s, you should check out ZU-UK here, and the Invisible Arts Network here. They are both doing things worth finding out about.