Style: children’s hands-on experience Where: Leyton Sports Ground When: Until 30th April
Rating: 5/5 for kids 4/5 for adults
First of all, I should declare that I am a ‘Legend of the Forest’. This means that at various events throughout the year that Waltham Forest is the London Borough of Culture, I rock up in bright pink gear and help out. When I heard there was going to be an immersive experience as part of the festivities I was delighted, Then I found out it was for parents and children only (no adults allowed without an accompanying child) I was determined to volunteer to find out what Atomic 50 was all about.
What it’s all about is tin. Tin in it’s many forms. Making things with tin, making a case for tin as an environmental alternative to plastic, making children’s imagination run wild when it comes to all things tin.
The making experiences were brilliant as part of this show. I really enjoyed making my Atomic 50 badge. But these were only about half of the show, and the order in which I did the experience meant that we did all the making first and the watching and then drawing second which slightly slowed the experience for me.
However, that was a very minor bugbear. On the whole, what really worked was the delight on the children’s faces as they got to get practical with their hands. The actors were all charming and were adept at improvising and making sure that all the kids had equal experiences, from the very shy to the more forward. They were fun, interactive and jollied proceedings along wonderfully.
Immersive theatre for children is a wonderful idea. Children may be shy, but they don’t have that embarrassment barrier that stops so many adults from throwing themselves into an experience. The feedback from the kids at the end of each session I volunteered at or attended was glowing. They loved it and that gave the parents permission enough to throw themselves into it too.
Style: Eye-opening Hyperreal drama Where: Around London Bridge When: Until 4th May
To Note: Not suitable for those with mobility issues.
Meeting in a pub near Guy’s Hospital, this drama takes you through the London Bridge area, where you will meet Sarah (Rebecca Ward) and Josh (Benedict Hudson). With them you will look into your missing past and theirs.
Lost in a world of conspiracy and intrigue, you will solve puzzles and make decisions. You will have your head spun by the many twists and turns and will be surprised right up to the very last moment. You will also be faced with things you don’t really look into about yourself that you didn’t know was publically available.
This was a gripping drama. So much so that when it ended I was shocked that much time had passed. The cast is formidable – they move the action on superbly as well as allowing participants to work out their challenges. The world is fully immersive – which is impressive given how vast the world is. At one point we were even looking at a cat suspiciously – we were that lost in the drama.
Recollection can’t have been an easy or a cheap production to stage. Which makes the very reasonable ticket price (£30) and small groups all the more impressive. Director Sophie Larsmon and writer Richard Pucci have created a world that works for this piece but could also be an expanded and ongoing universe. One I would definitely be interested in losing myself in again.
Style: Sumptuous Parody with Food Where: The Vaults When: Until 2nd June
Immersive Dinner theatre can be hit and miss. Sometimes great fun, sometimes a disaster. Regular readers will remember I had considerable issues with the staging, content and overall design of a previous Vaults production Divine Proportions.
So it was with a little trepidation that I approached Dinner is Coming. I worried that there would not be enough immersive elements surrounding the food and drink to make it a worthy night out. I needn’t have.
From your arrival in the throne room, the production keeps you busy engaged and guessing. And you get to sit on the Ironish Throne.
The action is constant. Shanine Salmon and myself were lucky enough to be recruited as ‘tits’ for Varicose (Liam Flemming) and had whole extra tasks to complete which made us happy as lambs.
Like most dinner theatre this balanced discussion with your table with the action surrounding you, but here I never felt I missed central parts of the action and there was a lot of one on one interaction with the characters that help you move on your storyline as well as getting a really in-depth sense of the action.
There were played out scenes too between every course of the excellent food. Largely dependent on where the audience had got to in their mission of electing the next ruler of Easteros and finding out who killed Jafferey.
The hardest part of the show, for me, was keeping track of the parody names. Remembering to call him Jimmy, her Kirsty, Her Carly. In the end, I quite often simply refered to them in my head and otherwise as “not Jamie” etc. But that was all part of the tongue in cheek fun. Some of the parody elements were a little tortured, but only in that fantastically campy British way that makes this kind of thing so much fun.
There’s so much to do, see and experience in this sumptuous production that I cannot recommend it highly enough. I had a hoot from arrival to leaving. The food was good, the show better. Dinner Is Coming is an absolute blast.
Style: Woke Escape the Room Where: Royal Court Theate When: Until 27th April
Dismantle This Room is – in essence – an escape room. You solve puzzles and make decisions as you go through to get through a series of rooms built onto the stage at the Royal Court. However, there is a strong element of self-examination and social justice woven into the experience throughout that give this an added edge.
For example, ticket prices are not set based on where you sit in the theatre but where you perceive yourself on the privilege spectrum. I’m a white, middle class, well-educated city dweller but also a woman. How do I rate? I put myself high but not at the top. It is for others to choose for themselves and perhaps to judge me.
The storyline of the escape room is a little campy (and nothing wrong with that) but the edgy video and the interesting mindful thought experiment at the end add a frisson to the experience that did have us questioning the privilege of the theatre world and who gets to take part in its upper echelons.
The game itself was relatively straightforward despite the fact that my group between us managed to a. accidentally disable the computer and b. get so lost at one point we had to be radioed the message “there’s a pen in the safe”. #usepens folks. It was a little short overall but definitely showed the imagination that is required both for inventors of immersive experiences and those seeking to question the establishment from the heart of the Royal Court.
Overall this was an interesting, thoughtful experience. I’d like to see it further developed into its full potential, but it is definitely worth seeing now.
Style: Human-free theatre Where: Silk Street Theatre, Barbican When: 11 – 19 April
Rooms confronts you with an interesting question: What is theatre? Where does the live experience begin and end? It has been described as theatre without actors but that’s not strictly true. It is theatre without live actors?
The audience are guided to a series of rooms (Girls Bedroom is pictured above) and after a short while to explore the space, a recording of someone telling a tale is heard. The tales are the stories of the people who would normally occupy the rooms, but they remain unseen. We have their voice and we have the room. A recording and a set. Is this theatre?
One of my companions was unsure. She posited at the end that the show would have been good on the radio. But for me, the visceral nature of the rooms – the ambiance, the smells, the details of the decor added a lot to the experience. In the same way that music is more than just poetry set to a tune, perhaps these stories needed these sets to be truly impactful.
I did miss actors though. I did miss the way that other immersive shows make you feel like part of the action rather than simply an onlooker. So while Rooms was definitely a show that made me think, I would say that I didn’t find it a show that was truly immersive. However, I do not believe it would be better on the radio.
Style: Immersive experience meets personal growth seminar Where: Arch 504, Ridgeway Road, SE5. When: Check for shows in June and beyond. To Note: Some intimacy but always with consent
Ultimately, This is a rather lovely self-actualisation seminar. The group bonds through exercises to improve vocal expression, self representation and physical comfort and expression. You come in shuffling and giggling nervously, you leave having – if consented – hugged and even sniffed total strangers.
There’s an odd layer of irony that sits over what is actually a rather unironic experience. The exercises are framed as part of the ongoing world of Dr Leon, that we first encountered as part of the Feelgood Institute. Participants are told they have to improve as part of their role in the mainframe. In some ways, this feels a little like they are taking a tongue in cheek attitude to the mindfulness and self-actualisation exercises that follow.
But perhaps that works as part of a permission structure that allows jaded old buggers like me to join in. If I think I’m doing theatre rather than hippy stuff, I’m better able to join in and get the most out of the experience.
And I definitely walked away feeling much better. It was both a helpful and enjoyable experience. Ably led by Sofi Lee Henson as Dr Leon supported by a small cast of helpers to ensure the action ran smoothly, the night had a few technical issues – it’s sometimes hard to be mindful when the mic is getting too much feedback. But overall, despite the sense of a showstring budget, this lived up to the billing and had a real and lasting impact.
Yesterday I had a wonderful time at Gingerline’s latest The Grand Expedition. In order to preserve the surprise, they ask not to use any photos of spoil any of the plot. But what I thought I would do is share this reaction from two people doing immersive for the first time.