Immersive theatre is bringing new audiences to live performance in South London

With the recent spell of cold weather and snow now returned to normality, without roads increasingly treacherous, many schools closed, train services reduced hour by hour and many offices and public buildings closed down. Wednesday 1 March, officially considered the first day of spring, was reported by many to be the coldest since records began in 1901.

Weather snaps like this can often affect live performances. Even if the artists can prepare their performance, audiences may be unable to reach the venue or may just prefer to stay home in the warm. However, last week I attended a performance at the Vaults Festival, in and around the tunnels under Waterloo Station, which proved that for some the show really must go on.

Wrecked, written by Jonathon Carr and produced by Fever Dream Theatre, is set in a crashed car, with the audience limited to the six people that can fit in the car along with Sam, the driver. Set moments after the crash has happened, the play sees Sam struggling to remember where she is or what caused the accident. For this run (until 18 March) the performances are shared between two performers – Kristy Bruce, who originated the role, and last night’s fantastic Alice De-Warrenne, playing Sam and those that appear in her story as she gradually gathers her memories.

Made even more credible by the recent freezing conditions (inside and outside the car), Wrecked is the latest in a long line of site-specific or immersive theatre productions, designed to give audiences a greater sense of inclusion in the story as it unfolds.

Another, just announced and coming to Clapham’s Landor Space in April, is Ferodo Bridges’ production of The White Plague. The show tells the story of an imagined London ravaged by a contagious epidemic of blindness, with those who have become infected finding themselves locked in containment facilities and forced to fight among themselves for survival. For this production, the audience will join the infected in their unique ‘white blindness’ by wearing specially designed white masks. The action will take place around them, with audiences able to hear, feel and even smell the action but not see it.

Whether producers opt for the site-specific style of Wrecked, taking audiences to an environment relevant to the show and then presenting them with a story, or the immersive style of The White Plague with audiences actually sharing the situations of the characters, sometimes becoming characters themselves, they are increasingly seeking to attract non-theatregoers to see their work, searching for audiences who might attend a Secret Cinema event but not usually make the trip to see a play in a conventional theatre.

The rise of this kind of show cannot be a bad thing. Whatever the format, as long as audiences are being brought into the same space as actors, not mediated by a cinema or TV screen or via an audio broadcast or download, the future for our special art form looks bright.

James Haddrell is the artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre

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