I don’t ordinarily do immersive shows. They don’t generally appeal to me, and judging by some reviews of immersive theatre experiences from other reviewers on this website my hostility is at least somewhat justified. I like a good sit down in a proscenium arch theatre, so to take in two shows that had us up and down staircases like the grand old Duke of York marching his ten thousand men up and down that hill was a most radical departure from my preferred method of enjoying a show. It says something about my lack of immersive experience when the press officer on duty calls me out by name and stops me from heading towards the auditorium, because we’re not heading there, at least not just yet. In fact, for Switch, one of the two said shows, we went everywhere but there.
But I share some thoughts first on Bred, presented by the 15 to 18-year-olds in the Tricycle Young Company. When I was that age, I avoided eye contact, and aside from giving a reading at a school chapel service (for which, given the solemnity of the occasion, I was to stare down at the paper to read it out word-for word), I certainly wouldn’t have been holding a paying audience’s attention and cracking jokes with them. This group seem almost impossibly articulate, and could teach a thing or two to certain older actors who have received complaints about lack of diction – that is, mumbling.
Mind you, if prepubescent actors are performing at shows like Matilda The Musical and Billy Elliot, why shouldn’t teenagers be able to perform brilliantly too? Hastan (Joe Collier) was already into his element as the particular group I was asked to be a part of for the purposes of a prologue trooped into the theatre proper. His preamble, encompassing a stand-up routine, a PowerPoint presentation and a quiz (amongst other things) is frankly too long, at least dramaturgically speaking. It’s enjoyable nonetheless, though, with some laugh-out-loud material to appreciate.
If some of the punchlines fell flat once the rest of the characters finally take to the stage, it is most likely because they were supposed to in this ‘party’, held in a fictional suburb called the London Borough of Bred. We are all, therefore, in Bred, or, as it was deliberately pronounced, ‘inbred’ (geddit?). One character fluffs up his chat-up lines, and even when he does get them right he fails to convince the ladies. But so awkward are so many of the conversations between so many of the characters that the faux pas (the plural of faux pas is faux pas, I am reliably informed) are almost relentless, and outstay their welcome.
Of particular note from this group are Casey (Daniel Calfe), a rather gawky but likeable boy-next-door sort of character, and Wolf (Riyanna Mistry), who sings a verse from a hymn written by Graham Kendrick, a Free Church minister, seemingly completely out of the blue. Even after a post-show analysis with other audience members I couldn’t place its relevance or anything that happens later that the lyrics could possibly relate to. Later Wolf becomes a central character in a showdown finale with Michael Brown (Joseph Cannon), the closest thing this show has to Les Miserables’ Gavroche, this streetwise boy of no fixed abode.
But if Bred was thought-provoking (and it was), Switch, from the 19 to 25-year-old group in the Tricycle Young Company, featured a choice between life and death, though the way in which the audience ends up choosing between those two extremes came as a surprise to me. Both shows demolish the fourth wall to engage the audience in quick-fire question-and-answer rounds, opening up the possibility of the most bizarre but amusing questions from hecklers. I had thought about asking in jest, “Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?” but as the subject matters in both productions ended up being very hard-hitting, I settled for quietly admiring how deftly these youngsters answered questions from a discerning audience.
There are spaces within the Tricycle Theatre that are not ordinarily open to the public, and I for one had no idea were even there. Both shows were presented as part of ‘Takeover 2016’ at the Tricycle, with ‘takeover’ being the operative word. At various times we were in the Tricycle’s cinema (plush seats), the Creative Space (no seats at all) and the Cameron Mackintosh Rehearsal Room. Even the bar and a staircase leading into management offices were all utilised to advance the narrative.
Again we were split into groups at a certain point in the show, and this time only reunited after some considerable time. Hence I hadn’t the foggiest idea why on earth another critic appeared to have a blindfold on his forehead at one point. I was told later what happened, but it would be revealing too much to relay it here; please be assured that it was nothing sinister. Suffice to say it wouldn’t surprise me if there was something about some of my own group that raised eyebrows when the two groups rather suddenly found ourselves confronting one another.
There was something very quirky in this play, and perhaps the tension that had built up was somewhat dissipated by a need to manage a large audience negotiating their way through the Tricycle building, leaving gaps where all that could be done was have a chat amongst ourselves. Even setting that aside, however, there are still bits that need tightening, though I hasten to add that we were asked to “please forgive rough edges you meet,” as the show is still in development, and it was great to be able to exchange ideas with director Tom Bowtell at a very lively after-party.
Of worthy note is Theo (Jessica Rhodes), who elicited an almost panto-volume-level response when she is gently led away, because the show has presented very compelling arguments both for and against following an almost messianic solution to the dystopian environment; Jeff (Joshua Jacob), who flicked from calm to absurdly erratic to calm again, dependent on circumstances; and Faye (LaTanya Peterkin), the bubbliest and most welcoming member of the group who are either protagonists or antagonists, dependent on your point of view of the narrative as it develops.
There’s a lot to take into consideration and plenty of food for thought in making the choice that the audience must make at the end – and some scenes, if I had immersed myself in the fullest sense of the word – may have caused me to be genuinely concerned for my (future) safety in places. Switch returns to the Tricycle Theatre this summer, and, as it is further developed, will hopefully prove to be an even better show than it is already. I declare my inaugural immersive theatre experience a success.
Review by Chris Omaweng
On 18 March 7pm
Devised and performed by the 15 – 18s Tricycle Theatre Young Company
Director: Tom Bowtell; Designer: Caroline Jones; Lighting Designer: Sarah-Louise McColgan; Sound Designer: Dinah Mullen
Inspired by factual research into teenager’s sex lives, the Young Company have worked closely with Brook Sexual Health Services and Sussex University to explore how teenagers talk about sex, the history of the perception of sex and interviewed their parents. BRED is the headline production for the Tricycle Theatre’s third annual takeover.
On 18 March 9pm
An immersive adventure devised by 19 – 25s Tricycle Theatre Young Company
Director: Tom Bowtell; Designer: Caroline Jones, Lighting Designer: Sarah-Louise McColgan, Sound Designer: Dinah Mullen
If you had the chance to plug into a machine which would take you straight to Heaven, would YOU flick the Switch? Switch is inspired by The Experience Machine a thought experiment put forward by philosopher Robert Nozick.