Having been to a number of interactive theatre pieces before I had at least an idea of what to expect when I walked up the stairs to the Soho Theatre space, sodden with rain from the sudden rush from the heavens outside. A nice gentleman offered to take my coat and I obliged him, only to find out later that it had become a prop for the performance. I say performance; it’s not nearly so easy as that.
Audience is a complete subversion and inversion of what theatre is expected to be. Under normal circumstances you would enter the auditorium, take your seat and wait for the play to begin, watching the actors prance around on stage saying things that are variably intelligent or just plain daft. Here, however, the tables are surreptitiously turned and you find yourself, the audience, the centre of attention.
Using the simple technology of a man with a camera and a very large screen every member of the audience is forced to consider themselves, perhaps in ways they have never done so before. In some cases using silence, in some cases placing themselves in the minds of the audience members whose faces were larger than life on the screen before all of us and speaking their thoughts, in some cases separating themselves from the audience and forcing us to band together in situations that were alternatively fun and exciting or dark and malicious; in all cases they were meaningful and poignant.
A few people walked out during a few of the scenes that were closer to the bone, a few more vocally objected and spoke out. A few people danced when bade to and a few shouted and screamed on cue. Everyone was affected by what they saw and felt. I would deny anyone who sat through a showing without being moved on a deep emotional level in some way, whether it was laughter or anger or something else entirely.
Seeing people’s clothes modeled by the actors like a catwalk show and seeing people’s bags emptied onto the stage is perhaps enough of an invasion of privacy for some but there is more to be had and I shan’t spoil the effect by explaining it here. Calculating and reading out facts about the audience, what colour is most common, how many couples, how many singles, how many people wearing hoodies and carrying bags is a deeply emotive experience for one so coolly factual. It makes you aware of yourself as part of the group collectively known as the audience and you band together, form a group identity in light of this.
Throughout the show you question whether or not the people being picked on and the stuff being strewn over the stage are part of the setup or not, whether the people walking out are members of the public, just like you, who have reached their limit of what they are willing to see. These questions are never fully answered and to answer them would be to the detriment of the show as a whole.
Those that you are made aware of as actors and part of the show are very brave people. Most of the time when you’re on the stage you are a character. Here, however, the line between character and person is deeply blurred, as it is between being in the audience and being part of the show itself. Their efforts are remarkable. It will take an awful lot for you to not hate and resent at least one of the actors as you leave and this is strong testament to them achieving exactly what they set out to achieve. They unsettle and unnerve you, forcing you to reconsider what’s going on at every stage, unsure of what is real and what is staged.
I have only given it a three star rating, though the impact is perhaps worth more. There are a few reasons for this. It’s only forty minutes or so long. There would need to be more for it to reach deeper into what it is to be in that position, to be a person in that crowd, in that group and this is something I would like to see explored more so than it is here.
A word of warning if you are considering seeing this show: if you are the kind of person who is easily upset or disturbed, someone who is perhaps vulnerable to the machinations of the stage then think hard before walking in. It may be entertaining at times but it is also chilling at times, depending on how hard you think and how much store you put in the insightful comments made by the actors in your midst. If you can go and think it will challenge you in ways you are willing to be challenged then I urge you not to miss it, as it’s not the kind of show that comes around every year. This is something else and it depends on you whether it’s good or not, not the actors.
Like I said, subverting and inverting what it means and what it is to go to the theatre. If you don’t believe me or don’t know quite what I mean then go along and find out yourself.
Directed by Alexander Devriendt; At the Soho Theatre; Starring Maria Dafneros, Matthieu Sys, Tieman Van Haver, Angelo Tijssens; Runs from 6 December 2011 - 7 January 2012.
John Ord (08/12/2011)