Secret location in Southwark
Immersive theatre is an extremely popular style of performance at the moment and is it any wonder?
Everything we do is interactive; we can press our buzzers while watching Britain’s Got Talent, call in to vote for the next popstar, even text our opinions during the political debates running up to the General Election; so why not theatre too? Many companies now ask the audience to get involved and Immercity do this brilliantly. It has had great success with a number of productions and its most recent piece, Wyrd – which is part devised, part improvised using social media – is no exception.
On the night, we met the characters at a pub ready to head to a secret location nearby. However, there is the possibility to meet the characters weeks before the show. Joseph and Fiona Warding and Ethan Pope are on Facebook. Here you’ll find YouTube clips, wedding photos with hidden clues and an invitation to their hen and stag parties. You also get the back story: Joseph is looking for information surrounding the murder of his grandfather and is seeking the help of the Gowdy sisters and the audience to do a séance.
I followed this avidly, throwing myself into it head first and I actually think this is the best way to do it. I loved the run up. The time at the pub and waiting in the cellar pre-séance could have gone on for longer and I enjoyed this more than the actual séance itself. I was happy questioning the characters, getting my fortune read through the use of tarot cards and trying to work out what the significance of the goings-on were. Getting to talk to the characters, I felt I was an important part of what was happening and felt like a detective, piecing together what was going on. Was it significant that one of the newlyweds wasn’t wearing their wedding ring? Was there something hidden somewhere I hadn’t found, in the tube station, at the pub? And what was with the ceremonial sandwich making?
I found Selma Glasell as Amanda absolutely mesmerising. Her terrifying stare and ramblings as well as her cryptic and seemingly nonsensical notes she wrote to the audience members really added to the experience. I, it turned out, should never wear purple or green. Why? Because she said so, and she can contact the dead. All of the cast were great but it really does depend on who you speak to as to who has the biggest impact on you. I spent much of my pre-performance time speaking to Ethan (Sam Trueman) and his best friend’s wife Fiona Warding (Victoria Jane Appleton). They secretly hate each other and this was shown in a surprisingly subtle and convincing way with the odd comment here, a sneer there, without ever going over the top.
It wasn’t just the audience who had to do their homework. Speaking to Victoria Jane Appleton and the director, Rosanna Mallinson, after the séance, they explained how the cast spent a month learning about each other; both the real them and their respective characters. They had to be able to give a knowing look and improvise on the spot in a manner that would further the plot without throwing their fellow cast members off.
The audience is part of the show; how they react to the things they are faced with, the interruptions and the unexpected turns the play can take is exactly what this company seems to hope for (and perhaps thrive upon). One moment which prompted reactions from the cast was when my companion, very kindly, decided to grab my back when the lights went down. I screamed and got told off by one of the sisters as we weren’t supposed to make any noise… I then spent the rest of the show searching for the person who did it.
This piece didn’t feel completely polished and sometimes felt a little stilted but it is understandable with it being partly improvised and unscripted and I don’t think this takes away from the hard work and effort put into the production as a whole. This technique also allows the show to stay fresh for both the audience and the cast as every night is slightly different – which is why I am desperate to go again.
Some people find immersive theatre terrifying, not truly knowing what is going to be expected of them. Some also don’t like that they are expected to discover things and if they miss something important, will they “get” the point. Wonderfully, in this production, you don’t have to do anything, if you don’t want to. However, I recommend you do get involved. Follow the social media and what’s going on, question the characters and do any activity they have available for you to do. This is a personal thing but I absolutely love it all and think that everyone should try it at least once. And if it’s only going to ever be once, it should be to see Wyrd.