first night

The Theatre

 

Quirk Productions
 
I have to admit, I didn’t do my research, and my lovely editor didn’t warn me, so, expecting a quiet night at the theatre, I was wholly unprepared for the interactive and immersive experience Quirk Productions offers with ‘The Theatre’. Apologies for those who already knew this, but for the uninformed: ‘The Theatre’ is not an ordinary play, nor an ordinary night at the theatre, but an interactive promenade show, which laughs in the face of the Proscenium arch, and third wall; instead you are given free reign (almost) of the theatre, green room and backstage, and encouraged to get stuck in; there is no ‘just-sit-and-watch-thanks’ option. Those who are wearing heels, have personal space issues, or don’t like interacting with people should think twice. But, the shock, alarm even, on being greeted (poked and prodded) by the most officious ushers outside of Heathrow was no bad thing, and feeling (mildly) uncomfortable was all part of the fun. Once the surprise wore off, and we realised we would be part of the show, we had a great, and unique night.
 
Having made it past the security guards, Ella Tayler Baron and Elizabeth Johnson competed to be the most helpful and ingratiating box-office staff with aplomb, and handled our bemused confusion when we discovered there would be no ‘play’, as we knew it, masterfully- sorry for our fretting!
 
From there Joe Burke and Will Clarke, as Henry Walken, the odious Artistic Director and Leo Oliver, the beleaguered Junior Production Assistant introduced us to the night’s frivolities officially- we were at an open day for this most singular theatrical establishment, and set the irreverent tone, which played off the stereotypes of theatre- complete with assistant desperate to make it, taken advantage of by the director, the extra with ideas above his station, the reject from drama school, an avant-garde reimagining of Romeo and Juliet, the mistreated technical staff, and the smarmy casting agent.
 
After we were treated to a very thorough, and very hilarious, health and safety briefing from Kenneth, the Health and Safety Coordinator, Rob Symmons (who, along with Burke and Clarke, was one of the star sof the night), we were led away by the ushers to explore the rest of the theatre- from the delightfully awful, biscuit munching executives Ruby Lawrence and Annabel Rowntree, picking our way over the blood and guts in stage-fighting workshop, past the chained up lighting assistant, learning the hard way not to climb Kenneth’s stairs without his guidance to the creepy vocal coach Sam Morgan.
 
But the whole cast was really fantastic, staying in character the whole time, no matter what we threw at them, even when a rogue audience member ran off with Clarke’s folder and scattered the pages, and never losing their energy, despite having to replay their scenes for the different groups. Improvisation can often fall flat, but there was a constantly high standard, with no weak link. It was polished and professional, and I never saw them falter, always lively, often very funny, sometimes farcical, and, for the most part, convincing.
 
The production team pulled off an amazing feat. Not only utilising the whole theatre, but ensuring it all ran smoothly and was well organized; no one was left lingering or in one place too long, and there were no traffic jams of people, it was timed perfectly to give us enough time to see everything, without dragging.
 
This is an incredibly impressive, original and bold venture- all imagined, devised and developed by the director Dom Everett Riley, that they pulled such an ambitious piece of theatre off sat all is a phenomenal achievement. In trying something new, and less formal, Everett Riley and his team avoided the usual problems and limitations that can make a play look scrappy or amateurish, and the comedy, though it was quite simplistic and played off well-known stereotypes, was largely effective. It made for a fun, and refreshingly distinctive night, and deserves to do well, if only because one of its greatest achievements is reminding us how theater can, and should, challenge and surprise us. I do recommend getting into the spirit of it, and going down to experience it, it’s unlike anything else on offer in Durham.
 
* * *
 
Madeline Ratcliffe

10 June 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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