One of the proofs of a great story is its ability to be transformed, augmented and/or retold. Macbeth is certainly one such story, and has been adapted in many, often quite crazy, ways. Immercity take a small part of Macbeth’s story, and refashion it, asking the audience to take a large part in its performance: this is immersive, interactive theatre.
The company only provide one performer, a witch, the story being completely recounted over wireless headphones, one pair each for the up to twelve members of the audience. Rather like an adventure game, the recorded dialogue is interspersed by descriptions of where the audience should imagine they are, and what they should be doing there, although thankfully we never find ourselves in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.
Group dynamics being as they are, everyone takes part in the action and Jamie Birkett, this performance’s witch, is very good at mutely taking control of the room, ensuring people are doing what they should be doing, while remaining squarely within the framework of the story.
It is all done thoughtfully and quite cleverly but a few things do get in the way. In particular, the sound design is really quite basic, and is let down by the technology, which squelches out every time the sound dynamic is too low, breaking up the sound. Given the level to which this show requires us to suspend our disbelief and use our imagination, anything that brings us ‘back in the room’, such as faulty sound, detracts from the experience.
Furthermore, the audience somehow don’t seem involved enough. It feels far more like an annoying away-day, group-bonding session, than gritty, immersive theatre: it comes over all a bit timid. The audience participation has a tendency to slow the play up, rather than helping it out, and it fails to really create the tension it requires to detonate its climax.
However, there are lots of good ideas here. The mystery of who we are playing is kept well under wraps, and the play’s twist is rather nice: it certainly isn’t a bad yarn. The concept behind the play is also strong, but its realisation just needs turned up, preferably to 11. That said, it is still a fun, unique (for this year) experience, and (unfortunately?) not nearly as intimidating as one might imagine.