I am both repulsed and fascinated by the concept of immersive theatre in equal measure. On one hand, I like traditional theatre for its passiveness. I can go alone, lose myself in the play and know other audience members are doing the same but immersive theatre doesn’t allow that, however small it is you are there in a role, you are expected to join in and whilst some, like my partner, hate immersive theatre there are others who embrace its interactivity.
Firstly what is immersive theatre? The Space describe it much better than me here:
In an immersive theatre production, the audience in some way plays a role, whether that is the role of witness or the role of an actual character. They may be allowed to roam and explore the performance space as the performance happens around them, allowing them to decide what they see and what they skip. They might be herded from room to room so they see the key scenes. They might even be invited to become a more active part of the performance. The lines between performer and audience and between performance and life are blurred.
What the piece acknowledges is the anxiety this can cause whilst most people go in knowing what to expect if you are new to immersive theatre it can be terrifying. The distance and intimacy in immersive theatre can vary hugely from By the End of Us, by Block Stop, which had a mix of single player interacting with the cast and an audience who interacted with the story through keypads is a nice gentle introduction to immersive theatre and through its gaming element saw a different audience but on the other hand there are shows such as Dr Leon Natural Enhancement, which are one-to-one sessions or 2015’s You Have to Forgive Me, You Have to Forgive Me, You Have to Forgive Me , where Brian Lobel prescribed you an episode of Sex and the City to watch in bed with him based on results of your questionnaire. Personally, I find such a concept terrifying and would be unlikely to take part but a friend described the attraction to immersive theatre as “I was a never an actress so this comes close”
In a world of people singing along to musical theatre and drunkenly shouting to actors in passive productions (I’ve been to Rocky Horror so I am saying nothing) it is nice that there is an outlet for them but with the exception of big producers like Punchdrunk (currently in Shanghai) most immersive theatre is new writing and sometimes not very good new writing. I’ve also seen shows where it is clear the actors’ strength is the performance, not the interaction and in some cases neither are very good in hope that you are distracted by the storyline. What I found interesting what the obsession people seemed to have with Drowned Man, the Punchdrunk/National Theatre production based on Woyzeck set in a 1960s film studio. I never attended but it was clear people were going back time and time again. A lot of it was an interest in the actors but crucially its immersive (and large scale) production meant there were many different story arcs to follow. Could immersive be more common than the traditional, passive theatre we are used to?
My main issue is the expense and whilst the “cheap seat” in me cannot fully recommend the cost I can recommend the experience. The Drowned Man’s premium tickets in 2013 were around £85, with standard tickets around £39. The Great Gatsby at the reasonably priced The Vaults is a good example of reasonably priced immersive theatre and as more productions go down the immersive route it may be harder to find a traditional production and harder to find value for money theatre tickets.