There’s a somewhat ‘cheerful’ Spanish woman at the bar when I get to the Old Blue Last. “They only do large,” she complains, motioning at the dregs of a well-drained wine glass, “no small.” I offer my condolences, but the more cheerful she gets, the less she seems to mind.
Nor, for that matter, does anyone else. It’s a busier than usual night in the Old Blue; a promotion is running for Stella Artois’ new dark beer, and the lure of alcohol-enhanced theatricality has proved irresistible for the Shoreditch sessionistas.
The event is called “The Night Chauffeur”, an evening of intrigue and mystery with a Gallic influence (the Artois connection, admittedly a loose one). After registering at the bar, participants are taken in twos on an evening drive around the city in a classic Citroen DS. Actors are placed along the route, drawing participants into individual, interactive performances, each one a snapshot of a much larger experience.
This larger experience is already the hot topic in the bar, as people who’ve already partaken compare stories and try to piece together what they’ve seen. I eavesdrop while I’m waiting, and the intrigue starts to be replaced by excitement.
After an entirely professional sampling of the new Black beer, I’m approached by the charming Babette. She informs me that my car is ready, but wait, I’ve made a rookie mistake! I’ve come straight from work, alone. Babette seems surprised, then looks around for anyone to occupy the spare seat. Watching her walk around the bar, approaching strange women is somewhat mortifying, akin to having your mother try to get girls to dance with you at a school disco.
Eventually though my dance card gets filled, and the seductive Babette introduces my companion and I to an even more seductive driver, who growls at us in French and leads us to our car. It instantly feels like we’ve been dropped into a scene from a latter day film noir. The car is a classic Citroen DS, all low slung seats and ripped up leather. Our driver grumbles in French but eventually coaxes the car into a swift drift around what, for now, is no longer Shoreditch. This could be Paris, Athens, downtown LA. The act begins, and we’re instantly absorbed.
The detail is what’s worth noting here. The face to face intensity that draws you in and won’t let go. The staging of the action, so that when the driver gets out to talk to someone, he stands just so you can see him in the rear-view mirror. The questions that get asked, and the little games that are played, thrust you right in the heart and mind of the performace.
The whole thing can’t last more than twenty minutes, and in my case ended up with me sitting on a step with a morosely beautiful French girl named Brigitte, rifling through a music-box of trinkets and lamenting our lost loves. I’ll admit it’s not the first time I’ve had this experience in Shoreditch, but this time I was at least 92 percent sober.
Drunken flashbacks aside, The Night Chauffeur was a singular experience. It’s great to see beer companies like Stella putting money into arts that aren’t entirely music-centric, and taking an imaginative hand to their advertising. Back at the bar, I run into my old Spanish friend (by now practically exuberant). She motions to a glass with more lipstick than wine in it. “I am naughty” she winks. “I think it’s just that kind of night” I offer. She agrees.
The Stella Artois Black event “The Night Chauffeur”, is taking place at venues all over the capital.
18th Nov: The Chamberlayne, Kensal Rise
21st Nov: The Dove, Broadway Market
22nd Nov: The Black Dog, Vauxhall
23rd Nov: Grand Union, North London
24th Nov: The Ten Bells, Spitalfields
25th Nov: The Old Goat, Twickenham
For more info check out their facebook page via www.stellaartoisblack.com
For our pick of the best gigs, club nights, exhibitions and events you need to know about this week along the East London Line, check out our “Pick of the Line” here