Sometimes I get asked to review a production that turns out to be very difficult to write about. It could be that it is a one-off or something that can only be experienced or even something that simply defies description. Together which I caught at the Camden People’s Theatre is pretty much all three of the above.
Together is a sort of combination of immersive theatre and a free for all. It starts from the moment you receive your show notes and are given a website to open in order to communicate with the performers (Smaragda Kara, Piotr Mirowski and Yujing Yan). All becomes slightly clearer when you go into the – for want of a better word – performance space. In three of the corners there is a screen and behind that a performer who is talking into a webcam – the screen, acting as a PC, showing them to you and the rest of the audience. You are then free to wander around and, via the website opened on your phone, you are able to communicate with them. So, instead of being involved in an online conversation on your own, you are involved with a group of strangers.
Devised by the company and directed by Mengting Zhuo & Yujing Yan, Together creates a strange atmosphere where not only do you get to see your comments as you participate in the online chat but can also hear the reaction of others around you as they read your words of wisdom or witticisms. This leads to a very odd sensation. On a personal level, I found myself wanting to get a reaction from everyone. If a comment was ignored, I felt irritated and almost wanted to ask the rest of them why they hated me.
Together is a very personal experience and as a member of the audience, you can have as much or as little interaction with the events as you like. Some people were sending messages as if their lives depended on it whilst others were sat back taking it all in. I was a bit of both and found myself flitting between two ‘channels’. The first, a rather scarily intense man talking about a new church and the second a shallow self-obsessed non-binary speaker in a fabulous onesie whose major crises was wondering what colour lipstick to wear on their date later.
All in all, Together was definitely a unique production. My feelings about it changed continually over the roughly one-hour running time. There was something that felt not quite right about being able to see the broadcasters as people in their personal space, as well as faces on a screen. It surprised me – though I’m not too sure why – how often the level of comments revolved around sex. Maybe it was my own prejudices but with the shallow person it was sort of understandable, but the church guy deserved better I thought. I’m not sure that Together entirely worked for me. I think it went on a bit too long and there were too many people in the audience, many of whom were in groups and spent a lot of time chatting or trying to outdo each other with smutty remarks. Having said that I was drawn into the world quite a lot, and was surprised at the reaction I had at times. In a room full of people, it was really easy to feel alone when my comment was ignored by the broadcaster or the people I could see looking at the screen and obviously reading what I had written.
An interesting production which certainly provides food for thought for those willing to open their minds to it.
Review by Terry Eastham
TOGETHER is an interactive devised performance exploring the mediated communication common to our times. Taking its form and inspiration from the trending online broadcasting (as seen on e.g. Periscope), TOGETHER touches upon the performative behaviours in a mediated society, the technologies that satisfy voyeurism and enhance solitude, and on audience interaction and manipulation.
Three broadcasters are making their own show, being live streamed onto three screens in different corners of the space. The audience will see the performers both at the real level and the mediated level. There is not a centre of the performance: the audience is invited to wander within it and to participate anonymously by sending messages to the broadcasters with a web-based app.
The audience is advised to bring their charged phones or tablets in order to have a complete experience.
Concept & Direction: Mengting Zhuo & Yujing Yan
Performance: Smaragda Kara, Piotr Mirowski, Yujing Yan
Technical design: Piotr Mirowski
Friday 16 March at 7.15pm