Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Day 4

In which Russell has his 21st birthday re-enacted, then goes on something of a rant.

Out of Darkness
Taylor Theatre Touring Company
Bucclech Free Church

Offer a story from your life, and watch it re-enacted in front of you in a rather silly manner.

I’ve never been to any playback theatre before. Out of Darkness asks for stories from the audience’s lives, then re-presents them in a style reminiscent of improv theatresports. This is a student company, and their improvising comes with something of a naïve simplicity, but there are some fun laughs throughout. I’d have welcomed a few more styles: there are a few different performance techniques on display, but after a while they become a little repetitive, and it wouldn’t take too much work to master a couple more forms. Having said that, though, I was happily engaged throughout. Additionally, it’s free, and they give you tea/coffee and cake afterwards, so you can’t fault that!

The performance comes with something of a proselytising bent (they’re an American, chuch-based group), which is a bit much for my English, non-religious side. I’ve nothing against going to performances with a religious bent to them, but to have the same poem of salvation read and enacted twice felt a little overboard. However, they have that genuine warm friendliness that comes with positive American churches (or what I’ve seen of them compared to the British!), and that warmth carries over very well into the interaction with the audience: helping us to warm up to offering them our stories, encouraging us to laugh together (crucially with one another, not at one another), and it resulted in my leaving the show genuinely pleased that I’d met these people.

A little rant about the flagrant misuse of the term ‘immersive’, possibly to try to sell tickets?

Right. I saw two more shows after that: Thief, and Today is My 100th Birthday or the Disappearance of Ubu Roi. Both were listed under the ‘immersive’ sub-genre. Both involved a traditional, seated, static, silent, uninvolved audience. The first I was always going to be sceptical of: it was a one-man show, and although I imagine it is possible to have a one-man immersive performance, I doubted that this would be the case. And I was right. He was directly addressing the audience though – is that all it takes to list something as immersive now?

The second show involved one moment in which an actor ran up the seating aisle and chucked a couple of bits of paper at the audience.

I’m getting seriously annoyed by this. Thief was a perfectly fine show, although I don’t think I’d have gone to see it based on its description without the immersive tag. Today… was in a performance style I hate, and late enough that I just wanted to go to bed. I began to feel very resentful towards the company for, essentially, tricking me to coming to see their show on false pretences. I’m thinking about writing to them to ask for my money back.

I’m not sure what we, as a theatre community, can do about this. I don’t know if it’s innocent, or if they’re wilfully misguiding the public. Given the looseness of the term ‘immersive’, and it’s still relatively unrecognised nature beyond an ‘in-bubble’, it could be either. Now, I’ve talked before about how ‘immersive’ isn’t defined, and I’ve probably defended its attachment to shows that others thought wrong, but in this case it’s just indefensible. It’s false advertising, plain and simple. A while back there was a crackdown on companies cherry-picking quotes from negative reviews which made them sound positive. I wonder if ‘immersive’ is the latest in a long line of purposeful misleading of audiences. If so, we really need to do something. It’s unfair, disrespectful, and damaging to the larger theatre community.

Right, rant over. Off for my last day!

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