[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/18997?ns=guardian&pageName=Immersive+theatre+%E2%80%93+tired+and+hackneyed+already%3F%3AArticle%3A1315603&ch=Culture&c3=GU.co.uk&c4=Culture+section%2CStage%2CTheatre%2CPunchdrunk&c6=Charlotte+Higgins&c7=09-Dec-07&c8=1315603&c9=Article&c10=Blogpost&c11=Culture&c13=&c25=Charlotte+Higgins+blog%2CTheatre+blog&c30=content&h2=GU%2FCulture%2Fblog%2FCharlotte+Higgins+on+culture[/img]I should have been frightened and disoriented in an "immersive" production of Kafka's The Trial. Instead I was bored.
The other night I went to see The Trial at Southwark Playhouse. The show'd had a fab review from Lyn Gardner when it was at the Edinburgh fringe, and I was looking forward to it, hoping to be transported and "haunted" as Lyn puts it. In fact, I was was unmoved; bored even (not to say that there are not one or two really striking moments in the production, from the promising young company Belt Up).
Why? I think it's because if you've seen one too many "immersive" pieces of theatre, the shock and excitement of sharing a space with the actors can just simply wear off. After you've been chased through a pitchblack corridor by a man wielding a chainsaw (perhaps the ultimate experience in any "immersive" show I've encountered, in this case in It Felt Like a Kiss, Punchdrunk's piece for the Manchester international festival this year) I have the feeling that it is quite easy for the coinage of this type of theatre to get somewhat debased. What, on initial encounters, felt like an exciting, experimental trend can start to feel predictable and hackneyed.
So when the actors from The Trial blindfolded me and led me through into a disorientingly cold and inhospitable space, instead of feeling a frisson of "what now?" I just thought, "Oh, not blindfolded again". When the actors prodded and poked me in a manner presumably calculated to frighten and to create some of the feelings of claustrophobia, hopelessness and confusion experienced by Kafka's Josef K, I just felt irritated. At the same time, I also noted that one or two members of the audience, not as grotesquely jaded as I, seemed to be genuinely terrified – and I wondered whether that was entirely fair. The power relationship between the audience and the cast seemed to have tipped rather completely into the cast's favour (this is something else that Lyn has written about from a slightly different angle, in an interesting piece she also produced at the Edinburgh festival about the ethics of the intimate encounter in theatre).
As we left the theatre, I found myself saying to my friend: "For god's sake, bring back the fourth wall. And seats."
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Guardian: Immersive theatre – tired and hackneyed already?
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