When I meet up with Daniel Thompson of BROKENSTEREO, it is in a slightly incongruous setting. Our talk is of fantasy worlds, a never-ending circus and the joy of escapism. But we’re sat in a quintessential ‘old man’s pub’ in the East End, surrounded by England bunting in the middle of World Cup fever.
Daniel himself doesn’t wholly look the part either. He’s dressed in a smart grey shirt and the smart/casual trousers that have become the uniform of most working men over this long, hot summer. When he talks of his Hampshire upbringing, it’s also clear that part of him longs to still be a country boy – a long way away from designing fiendish games to be played in derelict houses in Peckham.
But there is something impish about him, and it is this quality that shines through when he talks about BROKENSTEREO, and the work he describes as ‘excursive theatre’. I ask him what he means by this. “It’s a breakdown of the words. An excursion is a trip, a journey, something exciting. Excursive language is talking in lots of different narrative parts, and always deviating and going in different ways… In the end, it will be a blend of immersive theatre, escape room and theatre gaming.”
Daniel is a born trickster, which is why the gaming element of the work he produces is so strong. He sees this trickery as a quintessential part of immersive theatre “you’re playing with people, you want to trick them to believe something that isn’t quite real. I think you’ve got to be impish enough to convince people that something is real and then turn around and go “kidding!””.
Brought up on logic problems as I was, we both agree that this gaming element is key to the success of the work he’s produced so far. Recent work Phase Three relied heavily on logic-based games to get to the end of the work. It is this combination of dedication to logic and pranksterism that makes Daniel’s work so much fun.
A Different Form, A Different Theme, A Different Story
Immersive theatre is often about escapism, and BROKENSTEREO has created a whole other world, known as The Realm, that their shows allow you to escape into. Phase Three was the introduction to this world, but Daniel has plans to extend it over the coming year, with an anthology of pop-up shows running throughout the year. This will remain in experimental form, and every time you engage with the Realm it will be something slightly different. As Daniel says “A different form, a different theme, a different story. And then, at the end of the year, there’ll be a revelation to the audience.”
Eventually, the hope is that these smaller pop-ups will coalesce into a much bigger whole, where they can take on a whole building and audiences will “not only go into the Realm as it exists, but also backstage, if you will, of the Realm.”
This sense of worlds within worlds is clearly a fascination for Thompson. He describes his introduction to the world of theatre as a moment when – in a school drama class – hw was asked to imagine whole new worlds. “I just remember that moment being incredible. Like nothing is here, just imagination. And by telling stories I felt completely transported.”
To and With the Audience
It is both Thomspon’s love of escapism and his desire to ‘show the workings’ that drives him. But he is also totally customer focused – an essential quality in immersive – or excursive – work. He credits this to his day job of running bars for West End theatres. “Everything I do in my day job is customer experience and how you develop that and create it and make something really exciting and good and perfect. I think that’s what you have to start thinking what you can do to and with people.”
Thompson says his ‘dream’ project would be a “massive circus type thing – blending circus and magic is something really beautiful.” This project would include spaces for new and emerging performers to develop skills and acts as well – inevitably – as off stage games to test the mind. But it would sit alongside an ongoing, living breathing world created around the circus space.
I don’t know if this is fundable or even realisable, but it is certainly true to say that the ambition BROKENSTEREO and Thompson has deserves ever bigger stages, ever more ambitious canvasses. As we leave the pub – ironically for Daniel to rush off to serve drinks to theatre punters, it has become clear that it is that combination of vision, ambition and artful impishness that is the charm of immersive theatre and of the work Thompson is doing within the medium.