The Royal Court is famously the new writing theatre, and a space where the writer is King/Queen/Some flavour of deity/boss of their world, or at least it is in my fevered imagination. I was therefore fascinated to read about The Site Experiment when the Royal Court announced it. In a nutshell, it is a series of plays where the provocation comes from Chloe Lamford, the designer and is inspired by the space they are using. That was enough to intrigue me and I bought tickets for 3 of the 5 different shows.
Thus far I’ve seen two, with my third trip coming up this Wednesday for “A new work by Nathaniel Martello-White”. Unfortunately, due to life commitments (happy, joyful, celebratory type life commitments) and the fact I’m seeing both anatomy of a suicide and killology at the Royal Court next week, I won’t be able to catch the final two plays of The Site Programme, as they are running back to back over the latter half of the week. If the run were extended, I’d pounce on the chance to see more because, as far as experiments go, I’ve loved this one.
Why the love?
(1) When you arrive you are given a locker key, and asked to lock away your mobile phone. While this jarred at first, the freedom from the tyranny of having a quick glance at my phone as I waited for the show to start was wonderful. In fact, after both shows, I headed to the bar without picking up my phone first. There was a wicked pleasure in being unencumbered.
(2) I wasn’t just heading to the bar after to top up on wine (in fact for the first show I was hitting the free water) but because the artistic team were around and keen to talk to the audience about what they thought of the show. I’ll be honest, from looking around, it was a thespian crowd with a healthy smattering of students, so there were plenty of people happy to chat. And it was great, to talk about what we’d taken from the show, what different things could have been done. Instead of walking away thinking about the playwright’s vision and the actors’ performances, the audience experience was much more collaborative than that. We weren’t passive participants in the experiment (although if you prefer a passive audience experience there is no pressure to stay and chat afterwards) but active contributors. I’m loving the rise of post show conversations and interactions with creative teams. My perspective may be skewed, as I have dreams of writing for theatre myself, but having gathered people together in a room to experience a show, it does seem a wasted opportunity if you just let them disperse afterwards with no further engagement. The rise of places like the new theatre space, The Bunker, which offer interactions with the creative teams after each show, are a beautiful thing, driving deeper relationships between audiences and the artistic process.
(3) The room itself is surprisingly calming. The walls, well you have to experience them for yourself, but I find they give a very good head massage,if you’re inclined to lean back and turn your head from side-to-side (static hair be damned). It is very blue, intimate and warm (particularly for the 2nd show which fell mid heatwave). It doesn’t give anything away about the play you’re about to see. In fact, both plays have been very different so I have no clue what to expect come Wednesday. Plus that sense of discovering what is actually going on has been a distinct theme in both shows. I love that, in a world saturated in fake certainty, it feels refreshingly honest.
(4) It’s not too late to see it yourselves. The Royal Court have held back a certain number of tickets for each performance to be bought on the day, so even if the show of your choice can no longer be bought online, it is worth trying on the day. For both of the shows I went to, there was room for a few more people in the audience, so you could well be successful. Plus, once there, you can make a night of it, I recommend the burgers at the Royal Court restaurant (assuming, dear reader, you are a carnivore), their burgers come a very close second to the Young Vic burgers (a highly scientific burger-off experiment was conducted earlier this year with my friend Mapi, and the Young Vic were victorious, but the Royal Court gave them a run for our burger money).
(5) Thinking beyond theatre for a moment, there are many industries that ascribe the initial creative spark to a fixed place. Thinking of my long career in advertising, the creative ideas have always supposed to be led by the creative agency. There’d be occasional exceptions but they just seemed to bolster the rules, rather than break them. However, with the changes in how people are consuming media and engaging with brands, life is getting a whole lot more complicated and interesting. Interesting can be good, if you can embrace flexibility and stop being hemmed in by how things have always been done. I suspect that advertising is not unique in behaving this way. Theatre can challenge our thinking with the contents of their shows, but they can also challenge us into reappraising how we think and create to start with. Maybe it is time for more of us to relegate our dependence on the traditional ways of doing things to a museum, where it belongs.
If you’ve seen, or are planning to see, any of The Site shows, it would be great to hear from you. What did you take from them? Particularly if you’re seeing either/both of the final two shows as I’d love to hear about them. Yeap, this is me, shamelessly trying to live vicariously through others.
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