The term ‘Immersive Theatre’ isn’t well-defined, but, despite some efforts, SHIFTY by Foxtale Ensemble isn’t it.
Let’s start with the good: five female actors from across Europe (Greece, Lithuania, Norway, UK) meditate upon city life through movement, monologue and marbles. They evoke characters who notice, forget, search and find. The script is at times poetic, at times witty, often not dull. So far, all rather Didactic European Theatre, with philosophical questions at the forefront and any sense of plot out the window.
Part of the issue is that we are invited in with an explanation that the performance will take place all around us. ‘But there are chairs and beanbags if you need to sit,’ we are told. Yet when we enter the space, one of Rich Mix’s studio theatres, we are greeted by so many seats that everyone goes and sits down, and never moves again. What they must have envisaged being a fluid, intimate performance becomes rather distant and static.
I find myself desperate for narrative structure. While personally I do tend to be someone who wants plot to steer my emotional engagement, judging by how other audience members perk up at the hint we might have just been given a story-thread that will be followed through, I doubt I’m the only one who feels this way.
There is an elegance in the performances, and moments of poignancy:
Playing marbles one woman asks another if she’s ever really thought about their lives.
The other responds with a clarifying question, ‘Do you mean thought superficially or properly deeply?’
The first: ‘I mean have you ever thought about the extreme beauty and wonder of our lives?’
‘Oh, that, of course,’ retorts the second, deflating the solemnity by acknowledging something profound but unspoken.
The frustrating thing for me is that Foxtale Ensemble are clearly onto something. Living in a big city can be alienating. And for citizens of different countries it is interesting how being lost in one major conurbation can feel like you might as well be lost in any of them. We see people connected across the continent by their loneliness and isolation, when surrounded by thousands of people operating on autopilot.
But the conceit maddeningly never escapes student improv territory, for me.
There is the germ of something here, and it’s early days for the company, whose ambition to bring together performers from across our fracturing continent feels noble. Perhaps it is the quirky, clown-like costumes, all stripes and dungarees, that did it for me, but I couldn’t help but think this production felt like the stitched-together interludes of a contemporary circus show, intended to give the impression of a theme or narrative, but which are really just there to connect each trick to the next.
Review by Ben Ross
Today outrageous is the new normal, loneliness is rife, magic is lost. But what happens when we encounter an unexpected moment of connection? Immerse yourself in a world that slips between the real and the surreal.
A Woman walks out of the front door and onto the streets beyond. A Fox steps into the street light and gives her a slow smile with the hint of a wink.
Foxtale Ensemble comes together from cities across Europe to share an experiential performance inspired by magic realism. A storyteller opens a box and invites the audience to enter the tale of an urban world. Multiple cities, soundscapes and shape-shifting characters are unapologetically pieced together in a performance that balances on the edge of the real and the surreal, slipping into either at any given moment.
15 – 16 November 2019
Venue: Rich Mix: The Mix E1 6LA