It was subtler than its first incarnation in the same theatre space, but it’s a more nuanced play. The first time I saw the Tricycle Young Company’s production of Switch, set in a dystopian future, even the cinema that is part of the Tricycle building was used; we must have looked like a coach party coming in to the cast members already stood at the front of that rather large auditorium. Here, there were fewer of us, which led to a more personalised immersive theatre experience, with substantial changes to the way in which the narrative is revealed without changing the structure of the narrative itself.
There’s some sort of technological machine that’s been invented (literally ‘invented’, for it must be remembered that this is a play: suspension of disbelief and all that jazz) that is a modern-day Philosopher’s Stone, designed to help the person who ‘plugs in’ to the machine as well as society at large. Or at least that’s how it’s marketed. Members of the audience must therefore assume the roles of guinea pigs, or “pioneers” as ‘Tricorp’, the machine’s operating company, would have it.
I was told by way of an introductory cue card that I had committed some grievous offence, the details of which are not important for the purposes of the play. The most salient point is that I live in a permanently depressed state because of the far-reaching consequences of my offence, and I see being plugged into ‘the machine’ as the ultimate form of escapism, and a permanent solution to a permanent problem. “The machine beckons.”
I’m still not entirely sure why we were blindfolded at one stage: there was nothing particularly unusual or fantastic to look at when we were invited to unmask. I think, though, this was something retained from the first production, though I did not personally encounter it then. Then, as now, the audience is split into two groups, so not everybody is exposed to the same elements of the production. Or perhaps they were this time around, who knows. I found myself in a similar group on both occasions, and thus knew what at least one part of the proceedings was about as soon as we were on the move from the opening scene. The main advantage of this was that I knew when to make a beeline for a free cup of tea and a biscuit.
Anyway, there was less violence this time around, by that I mean there was none at all: even the Tricycle’s bar staff back in March seemed a little bamboozled by a sudden ‘attack’ on a member of ‘Tricorp staff’ who had revealed some classified information to third parties – meaning us, the audience. But if the ‘Tricorp’ (always in inverted commas, as there is an actual Tricorp Inc, a US construction management company) executives wanted us to talk amongst ourselves for ten minutes to make up our minds as to how we wished to proceed having reached a crossroads, we weren’t really left alone at all. I wonder how many others in the audience knew this, but I recognised some of the more talkative faces from the first production – and similar arguments for and against were made. In short, the cast is so large that some of them participate as members of the audience, and delicately guide the rest of us through. It was thus for me to act as though, in the words of Fawlty Towers’ Manuel, “I know nothing”, and simply enjoy the proceedings.
The end result was the same, and I wondered if there could ever be an alternative ending, but this would be quite impossible. To achieve a different ending to the one presented, everyone must be of a similar mindset, and with planned – even if not scripted – division amongst those in the cast behaving as members of the audience, that wasn’t going to be the case. But it took a lot of thinking, and two goes at this production, to work that out.
No matter. It still provokes a lot of thought, and the ‘rough edges’ I was almost expected to encounter first time around have been not only smoothed over, but painted and polished. It was credible enough that some of my fellow audience members had to remind themselves in the bar afterwards that when they walk out of the Tricycle, the Kilburn High Road and normal life beckons, and the dream of a personal utopia, in which so much thought and consideration had been invested, was not to be. For my part, I must admit to being slightly disappointed that my dream of not paying a penny of council tax ever again must remain a fantasy.
Ridiculous, isn’t it? But that’s how ‘immersive’ this immersive production is – audiences really do get into the action, and when it was all over, some people weren’t sure that it was, in a reversal of events in the dying moments of the World Cup Final 1966, so famously described in Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary. There were only a few of us back in the foyer bar ordering drinks, and I was so bemused by the reticence of the others that I almost marched out there to announce, “I am a theatre reviewer! I may not be impersonated! The show is over! Come in for drinks!” But just before I did so, they finally emerged. My understanding is that it fell to the show’s director Tom Bowtell to state what was obvious to the rest of us. I am pleased to report it was all smiles and laughter after that, despite the dark storyline.
This altogether thrilling and imaginative experience is an extraordinary and unique piece of theatre. It may still come across as disorganised and unconvincing in places, but this is all deliberate. The show creates more questions than it resolves, but that only keeps audiences interested and intrigued. I actually wouldn’t mind a third visit to this show if it were to return after the refurbishment of the Tricycle Theatre, due to start very soon indeed at the time of writing, is completed. Congratulations to the Tricycle Young Company on an unqualified success.
Review by Chris Omaweng
After a sold out run during Takeover 2016, the Tricycle Young Company are back with four more shows of Switch!
This immersive adventure casts its audience as citizens of a broken future. Using the whole of the Tricycle building as its stage, the piece takes its inspiration from The Experience Machine, a thought experiment put forward by philosopher Robert Nozick.
If you had the chance to plug into a machine which would take you straight to Heaven, would YOU flick the Switch?
Director Tom Bowtell
Designer Caroline Jones
Lighting Designer Sarah-Louise McColgan
Sound Designer Dinah Mullen
Video designer Iain Syme
Sound Designer Dan Da Cunha Blaker
Cast List: Heather Agyepong, Rosemary Akinola, Elle Amara, Jamie Ankarah, Sarah Bodenham, Daniel Calfe, Joseph Cannon, Katie Cherry, Rachel Clarke, Joe Collier, Cecelia Crossland, Mustapha Elwadi, Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu, Rasfan Haval, Joshua Jacob, Luke James, Eren Kul, Claire Mannion, John Marfoh, Nicholas Marrast-Lewis, Riyanna Mistry, Rebekah Murrell, Conor Patrick Carroll, LaTanya Peterkin, Nancy Randle, Jennelle Reece-Gardner, Laura Reeve, Lily Reeves, Jessica Rhodes, Iqra Rizwan, Julia Rochlitzer, Nathaniel Wade and James Wilson.
Immersive theatre experience around the Tricycle
Age Guidance: 11+
Sun 19 Jun 2016 – Sun 26 Jun 2016