Yesterday I saw an immersive performance based on Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove by the immersive cinema company Secret Cinema. Their work has been very popular and combines live performance with classic film screenings.
The journey began for the audience when they were assigned their unique persona at the DOCS website (Department of Cultural Surveillance). Whether they were Military Division or Diplomat, all ticket holders were encouraged to get involved in the new world, with even a fictional newspaper encouraging participants to become citizen journalists.
The fictional Burpelson Air Base, was created at a factory warehouse complex in South London, the film was brought to life with over 35 actors posing as DOCS. personnel, military and non-military, a live jazz band, and a life-size replica of the iconic War Room, created by set designer Ken Adam. This was built to a grand scale, and incorporated six stadium-sized screens from where the audience could watch world events unfold.
I thought this was a lot of fun and certainly a different theatre experience from sitting in a dark room watching the action on stage.
Director: Yaël Farber
Designer: Soutra Gilmour
Lighting Designer: Tim Lutkin
I saw the play Les Blancs at the National Theatre tonight. It takes place in an African country that teeters on the edge of civil war. A society prepares to drive out its colonial present and claim an independent future. Racial tensions boil over. Tshembe, returned home from England for his father’s funeral, finds himself in the eye of the storm.
I enjoyed this play very much, especially Soutra Gilmour’s design. It was simple, but very effective. When you entered the room you immediately felt like you were entering another world. The smell, the red stage, beautiful lighting, clever stage solutions and even fire made a beautiful world on the stage.
Writer/Director: Tom Salamon
Designer: Samuel Wyer
Associate Designers: Darling & Edge
Costume Design: Susan Kulkarni
Masks: Ministry of Masks
I saw the immersive theatre production Goosbumps at the Vaults tonight. The performance is based on the best-selling novel-series Goosebumps by author R.L. Stine. During the performance, the audience is split into groups and a guide leads each group between spaces where they witness several performances each based on a different novel.
The set design by Samuel Wyer and costumes designed by Susan Kulkarni were well made and most of the time convincing, and the masks made by the company Ministry of Masks, were amazing. But for me that was simply just not enough, it felt more like an amusement park than theatre. I don’t know the original stories, but in my opinion the performance was simply just not strong enough. I also really wonder who is the target audience, as the stories really come across as stories written for young audience, but the play is not recommended for children under 12 years old and under 18 years must be accompanied by a parent or a guardian. In a review for the Guardian Lyn Gardner says, and I have to say that I agree: “As a piece of theatre, it’s woeful: technically and imaginatively lazy and entirely failing to understand that fear is not found in cheap effects but in the dark recesses of the mind. I’ve had encounters with myself in the mirror in broad daylight that have been much, much scarier.”
I find the concept of immersive theatre very exciting, and this is the third immersive show I see this year (the others were Absent by the theatre company Dreamthinkspeak and a production based on the film Dr. Strange Love by Secret Cinema). But after seeing this performance it really got me to think about how extremely careful you must be when designing and making an immersive performance. When the actors are just beside you and you actually can touch the set and see that it is not “real”, the “theatre magic” can easily be lost. In my opinion less can certainly be more when it comes to designing an immersive performance. Using the actual space and add to it, rather than building big walls and sets in front of the actual space you are using, is something that I think makes it more believable and “real”.
It is also a big challenge to get the audience forget themselves for a moment and be carried away into another world, as they are always conscious about themselves and the other people around. Perhaps it works better when the audience is more involved, like at Secret Cinema where everyone gets a role and must wear a costume? Or perhaps it works better with smaller groups, or if the audience is allowed to explore the space more freely?