Undertaking - Wednesday 13th September
This year, the Sydney Fringe Festival line-up features quite a few immersive events that teeter around the notion of an interactive and holistic experience, which may break down traditional boundaries between actor and spectator, while also playing around with the linear and passive providence of a set narrative. But, apart from these broader ideas, one never knows what exactly to expect when walking into the realm of an immersive theatrical experience.
Immersive production company, Mongrel Mouth, make it clear from the outset that Undertaking is a show for ADULTS ONLY as it “may be disorienting, may contain extreme nudity, extreme violence, graphic imagery, low level and strobe lighting”.
There is a strange and perverse curiosity that’s often provoked when art mandates extreme violence and nudity to unfurl its meaning or experiential quality. I began to question whether Undertaking would simply contain another display of violence for violence’s sake, horror house style, or whether I’d be pushed to really ‘interact’ with a challenging and provocative performance, with my involvement potentially altering the severity or duration of such violence.
Upon entering the HPG Festival Hub on Euston Road, one takes a moment to marvel at the sweet orchestration of bright neon lighting, visually intriguing installations, and the sheer amount of space that has been dedicated to the cultivation of the arts and cultural experience in Sydney.
When getting my ticket scanned for Undertaking, I received a white sheet of paper with a list of rules for the show. These rules essentially protected the actors from any abuse and provided an escape route for anyone who may be overwhelmed, among other things that would ensure the ‘immersive’ nature of such an experience.
The premise: for an hour and a half, you and your fellow audience members are crime chasers, and you must seek out the Undertaker. An interactive and immersive theatre experience.
A dilapidated and vacant office space. 90 minutes. A murderer. A code. You.
The experience begins with audience members being transported to the second level of an office block. It is dark with the exception of the eerily constant glow of the exit sign, the lunar light that manages to filter through the broken blinds, and the torches of various audience members’ phones. There are large plastic sheets suspended from the ceilings, leaving audience members to disorientedly walk along strange, unnatural and curved paths, while projecting distorted silhouettes onto one another. Broken air vents. Broken wiring. Broken sense of security.
“Please put on the gloves,” echoes a voice from around you. There is a tray filled with latex gloves: do not tamper with the evidence.
The audience is left to meander within the office space: its various rooms, the strange hints and caresses of a psychopathic murderer who seems to be obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe, alphabetisation and the ripping of pages from books. It is creepy, and you will be startled by anyone who appears from behind you. The free-flowing navigation of space feels unfamiliar and self-conscious at first, but is it not the theatrical experience that requires us to intensify the interpretive possibilities of every moment in time and space?
Various actors emerge from the audience, bringing to life the various plot strands of the theatrical experience and subtly guiding members to decipher various codes and make decisions that determine the success of the crime chase. There is simultaneous action, with your understanding of the events being limited or enlarged by your position within the office space.
Without giving too much away about the show, I’ll end this with the note that each audience group will experience this show in entirely different ways, with the outcome of the crime investigation being determined by the wit, initiative and boldness of you, the audience.
[Genevieve joins us tomorrow with a double bill of The Colour Orange and Bitch Boxer]
Written by Rebecca Ha