Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: 101, C Soco

Review: 101, C Soco

Published on Culture Wars, 01.09.2010

Be careful what you wish for. For a while now, the cry has gone up for interactive theatre that allows true freedom. We have asked for more than a toy world, one with unlimited options where volition doesn’t bash up against perimeter fences. How can theatre that allows us agency avoid mollycoddling us? Can it treat us like unfettered adults?

101, a set of four interactive experiences created by recent graduate company Oneohone, commits to this boundlessness with immense integrity. Outside the performance space, in a room that functions more as briefing room than decompression chamber, we are each given a white sash that signifies our active involvement. Removing it removes one from the experience. Crucially, the performers have the same sashes and the same options. It is, we are told, as much ours to control as theirs and, therefore, the same safety procedures apply to both parties. This is, in no small way, a game between consenting adults.

Push against it and 101 moulds to fit. If you’re game, it says, so are we.

Only, before long, it doesn’t feel like a game anymore.

The room into which we file for the encounter nicknamed My Own is a furnace of whooping cheers. It feels *hot* from the start and the temperature only rises. Stood in an awkward line, almost awaiting instructions, we are hauled out in turn to join two groups. It’s recognisably playground. Each of us co-opted into a team is greeted with ecstatic yells and backslapping cheer. “My brother,” they say, looking earnestly into your eyes. Teams picked the fire-stoking begins. Mantras are chanted, rituals are undergone. Something rises in your chest: an aggression noticeable when your teeth grit and your chest puffs. It’s far from nuanced – the situation is quickly recognisable and left more or less uninterrogated, serving almost as experiential literary criticism – but it carries you away.

Unless you check it. At a certain stage, the realisation fell that these statements I was shouting – “There is no revenge unless you surpass them” or something to that effect – were ugly and empty. This rivalry, whipped up into a frenzy, was an empty one spun for rivalry’s sake and detached from original offences. We were footsoldiers recruited. Or rather conscripted.

And so, sash still around my wrist, I stepped back. A conscientious objector, looking on but refusing to represent. Participating by refusing to participate.

At this point, two problems become clear. First, that moral retreat looks much like discomfort and – safety being very much on the company’s mind – an actor broke ranks to explain the rules of the sash. Second – and far more problematic – the inauthenticity of the event. For all that I felt moved to intervene, to follow through my objection with a disruptive action, I did not. One is aware that this is not just *your* experience, but *our* experience. Who am I to intervene in the experience of other paying participants? They’ve come to see the company, not the heckler.

That means that interactive theatre is caught between two poles. If we play in the real – and 101 very much creeps that way, despite a surface level of fiction – we must be bounded by the status of constructed event. Unless, perhaps, we are lone audience members. If we play along with the fiction, the danger seems greater. Actors and performers come prepared. They have processes to aid commitment and immersion. For us, lacking the rehearsal period, commitment is more slippery and the fiction more fragile. Where it sweeps us away, we are not in control in the same way. We lack the techniques and triggers of the performers, who have built to this point and constructed a method of entry without abandon over time. Thus unprepared, we are either carried away with the fiction or ejected from it. To act is to exist in and embrace a state of liminality. It is to exist on the threshold of two worlds and that is a fine tightrope to tread. To do so requires training.

This feels dangerous. Safe as a game constantly monitored, but dangerous beneath the surface, where it exists unchecked.

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