It’s 19:25 and I’m waiting to enter the foyer of the Albany. The cast are in place, the audience is assembled around tables and the action has already started. I have no idea what I’m letting myself in for tonight, no idea what might happen in the penultimate performance of a string of shows that started in June, and the strangest part about that statement is that I’m not a member of the audience.
Teatro Vivo is a site-specific theatre company that devises work in unconventional places. Their current show at The Albany is a rework of Homer’s epic tale The Odyssey, following Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, on his adventure retracing his father’s steps – and all around the streets of Deptford.
…being lead to God knows where by a bunch of lunatics…
The audience are split into groups: you could end up by the river talking to a neurotic goddess, or being lead to God knows where by a bunch of lunatics; it’s very difficult to tell if you’re actually going the right way or if you’ve just been picked up by a random stranger who happened to be out and about that night.
Anyone or anything could be part of the show, and by the time you’ve gotten really into it your senses are so much brought to life that you begin to see and notice things that you might not have before on a normal day.
Every single performance of the Odyssey has been different…
With immersive theatre the experience is a new one every night, though the story stays the same the action relies entirely on what the audience does, making them immediately and unchangeably an integral part of the production.
Every single performance of the Odyssey has been different, from defiant audience members, to members of the public jumping in – even to the point where a group of kids on roller-skates, having followed the production around the streets of Deptford many nights in succession, at the danger of supplying spoilers to the new audiences, were invited to take part in our community chorus. As Telemachus rightly says “These spirits have attached wheels to their shoes… ‘tis a stroke of genius’”.
…the unexpected turns the play can take is exactly what this company thrives on…
Teatro Vivo reflects the ideals of the people working in it and indeed of the best companies in site-specific and new theatre; adventurous, playful and utterly unpretentious. An audience member pointed out to me one night that what’s so wonderful about this particular immersive theatre company is that you don’t get that awkward moment during a performance where an actor is in the middle of the monologue only to show their distaste for being interrupted by an audience member very clearly.
The audience is part of the show, the interruptions and the side-tracking and the unexpected turns the play can take is exactly what this company thrives on. As a performer you are as much surprised by the action that takes place as the audience are, and it’s truly magical.