My obsession with going to the theatre has always been a “behind closed doors” thing — an experience and hobby I prefer to treasure alone. I guess that’s reflective of who I am as a person: the way I look from a distance suggests a certain position in and outlook on life, but if you take a deep breath, my essence reeks of something entirely different. There’s the above-average height, bushy eyebrows, and shadows of pockmarking from days of hormonal acne breakouts past; there’s the impractical romanticism; there’s the manic (borderline tweaky) obsession with avoiding the mundanity of the everyday. And, if you lean in close, there’s the ever-so-slight scent of panic at having to live within my own skin. I’m a stereotypical theatre nerd through and through.
So, naturally, I cherish escapism. But even more than being the one reciting memorized lines underneath a hot spotlight for judgmental strangers, I love being in the audience: cavernous ceilings, deafening silence, and collective consciousness combine to make me feel wonderfully…minuscule, if only for 90 minutes. Like I’m invisible, but still worth something. I find that good theatre engages at least three of your senses at once, and great theatre manages to engage them all. Fucking amazing theatre, however, is often totally immersive, where the line between art and life is blurred — or completely indistinguishable.
Instead of taking a plush velvet seat to be told an expensive story, audiences literally walk, or run, into the story itself. Most people have read a word or two about Sleep No More, otherwise known as a dialogue-less, avant-garde remix of Macbeth. Participants don opaque white masks and chase characters around an ominous multi-floor warehouse, smelling and tasting and eavesdropping and, sometimes, being getting pulled away for a one-on-one interaction, like a striptease, along the way. It’s mesmerizing and petrifying and has amassed an equally scary cultish following. But there’s other companies creating new worlds (to varying degrees of lavishness) besides Punchdrunk. In the past couple of years, I’ve checked into the Grand Budapest Hotel, called “action!” on an Old Hollywood film set, been a suspect in a small-town murder, solved mysteries with Film Noir-era detectives, and fallen down Lewis Carroll’s rabbit hole.
Unlike social media, immersive theatre sets are all-encompassing parallel realities where good outweighs harm. Who doesn’t want — need — one of those right now? Tickets are not cheap, but consider this: in the tech age, anonymity AND a sense of belonging have both become aspirational luxury goods, alongside pink Glossier pouches and Soho House memberships. We all daydream either about being bigger or smaller than ourselves. In pursuit of this, putting on disguises and blindly trusting strange actors has actually given me a more positive outlook. Each time, I successfully outrun the confines of my own life, but the theatre walls ensure I run no risk of losing myself entirely. Once outside again, sweaty and disoriented, the opportunities for creation and change seem endless.
Go see for yourself.
…and all Immersive listings can always be found on No Proscenium.