Two actors. An empty room. 40 or so seats. The door closes. The experience begins. A House Repeated is an immersive theatre experience… but not in the way you might expect.
For the last decade, London has been at the forefront of the rise of so called ‘immersive theatre’. Once considered an adjective with which to describe elements of theatre and performance production, ‘immersive’ seems now to have become a theatre genre in it’s own right. Productions under this tag-line have passed through the doors of the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) before now, Punchdrunk’s The Masque of the Red Death in 2007 perhaps being the most notable, their ambitious production ran for months and utilised most of the BAC’s large, multi-space venue. The lavish and intricately detailed production it is now considered key in defining what the ‘genre’ has become today, and a significant milestone in BAC Co-director David Jubb’s mission for the production house to “reinvent the future of theatre”. However, as this BAC co-production with Seth Kriebel proves, a production doesn’t need extravagant set pieces and dozens of actors to be engaging. A House Repeated strips it right back to basics, your imagination and that aforementioned empty room, are all that is required.
The ‘show’, or it might be more appropriate to call it ‘experience’ operates like a live action game. The performers set the scene, conjuring up the ‘house’ around us using not props, not set, not visual trickery or technological interference, but purely language. It is up to the audience to navigate around the space the performers open up (in our heads), uncover the secrets and reveal the story. This requires a big commitment on the part of the audience, who must work together by (God forbid!) talking to each other, but Seth and Zoe are patient and gently encouraging guides. They are, funny, too.
Immersive theatre is sometimes defined as ‘theatre that engages the senses’, can we really be immersed in a space that is not really there? A House Repeated is an experience which draws you deeper by engaging the mind. Immersive theatre is also often defined by the unique experience of each participating audience member. In A House Repeated each member will see something entirely different, because the set is not a physical space but a vivid mental picture. How many immersive shows can boast that? It is a refreshing and somewhat nostalgic twist.
There are naturally some drawbacks to this style of production The fact the audience not only watches the show but is the show means that if you have an uncooperative or disinterested fellow audience, your entire personal experience is going to be jeopardized. Theatre like this can only exist insofar as there are audiences who will meet the performers halfway, and engage with the material. The story and it’s delivery itself also had some flaws. Where the audience felt they could not influence the mentally created environment, the tension was lost and the meditative state of being somewhere else fell away, bringing you back to the small, stuffy committee room. Although a fun and interesting way to spend an hour in the company of strangers, this still feels ultimately more like an experiment in participation than a full ‘show’ or theatrical experience.
It has to be said as a final thought, this is an exceptionally clever use of space on the part of BAC, who’s new main hall is due to reopen in the near future after being gutted by a devastating fire in March 2015. Keeping a full and vibrant range of productions going with limited space and disruptive building work has not been easy, but as A House Repeated goes to show, who needs a theatre building when your mind can take you anywhere?