first night


Ellie Gauge gets immersed in Cooper Studio's 'Dystopia'



Cooper Studios have taken an incredibly bold step with their immersive production Dystopia. Immersive theatre is something that has not been seen in Durham before, and I firstly want to thank Christian Ellinas and his team for bringing us something new and refreshing. There has been a recent buzz around the immersive style and the fact that this production sold out days before opening night is testament to the anticipation surrounding it. Whilst I am pleased to see exciting and innovative styles making their way onto the Durham theatre scene, putting on such a show comes with inevitable risks.


The air of mystery surrounding this production was huge, and I really didnt know what to expect as I wandered onto Framwellgate Bridge on Sunday evening in the hope that all would soon become clear. A girl strolled past me holding an illuminated umbrella and soon a small crowd gathered around her; I assumed this was whom I should latch onto and eventually sauntered over as well. Nothing was spoken between the slightly confused audience members and the illusive umbrella girl. In time, the umbrella girl was replaced by a superior umbrella girl (played by with poise by Georgia Small) who introduced herself as our host and forcefully instructed that we must follow her for the duration of the performance.


The main premise of immersive theatre is that the audience is completely immersed in the production. Unfortunately given the secretive and mysterious nature of the production, there was a rather crucial element missed out: the audience was never explicitly told what its role was. Instead the actors just repeated to us that this was a no talking experience. There needed to be a more detailed explanation of who we were and why were we here. The introduction from the host was simply too brief and somewhat vague, and we were handed fumigation masks with no explanation as to why, as such we were not immersed in the world of the play.


Due to the tense atmosphere that the production aims to create, the actors are required to remain largely deadpan throughout and hence some of the performances lacked energy and drive. Thankfully the lead, Lyial, played admirably by Michael Yates, was an exception in this respect and kept the pace up throughout. When the audience is so close to the actors, it is essential that the performers remain focused, Yates commitment to the character and his attention to detail made for a believable and therefore powerful performance; he should be highly commended. As should Rory Barnes, who played Saul, for his wonderfully commanding presence.


The slight problem with pace and energy could perhaps be a fault of the script itself with the dialogue seeming overly complicated and long-winded. The faults in the script unfortunately further exacerbated the problem that the audience was left feeling slightly bemused.


I must, however, commend the production team on their creative vision for the show and their implementation of it. The use of the up and coming venue Empty Shop was arguably better than any other event I have witnessed in there; each room was carefully arranged with fantastic attention to detail which created the perfect atmosphere for the various different locations. The aesthetics of this show was without doubt one of its strongest features.


Cooper Studios were certainly on the cusp of creating something seriously refreshing and exciting with Dystopia but annoyingly some of the key concepts of immersive theatre were not completely grasped.

I hope this is the start of more exciting theatre in Durham, Cooper Studios should be praised for getting the ball rolling!


5 December 2014

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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