As the audience take their seats in the Traverse theatre for The Invisible Man, a stage technician with incredibly sparkly trousers is already on-stage, watching the auditorium and awaiting the arrival of both the audience and the cast of the show. While the cast eventually arrive – including Rob (the titular invisible man) whose presence is only denoted through a spotlight – it quickly becomes clear that the presence of the audience is not felt by the actors. What unfolds is a charming, funny and somewhat anarchic spectacle that thoroughly immerses the audience, while also playing with the fourth wall and traditional notions of theatre.
The premise of a play within a play is not a new one, however Theater Artemis’ take on it is deeply refreshing and perfectly suited for its target audience of four to 11 year-olds. It’s not so much that the fourth wall is broken; rather it seems never to have existed to begin with. The use of the entire theatre – tech booth and backstage included – leads to a deeply immersive experience that can be easily understood by even the youngest members of the audience, as well as a great deal of humour. Moreover, aside from the obvious farce that is the central premise of the cast awaiting the arrival of the audience, there is a great deal of dry self-awareness that permeates throughout, keeping the adults just as entertained as the children.
Most joyous of all though is the way in which invisibility is handled throughout the play. With the exception of Rob, who remains invisible throughout, other cast members and object appear and disappear on a whim and the way in which this is conveyed is one of the most successful parts of the show. While mime may be considered one of the simplest forms of theatre, when performed as well as it is by Theater Artemis, then it can also be one of the most effective. This is only enhanced by the puppetry employed to both assist with the mime and to denote the actions of the invisible characters. While strings are certainly attached, it does not lessen the experience, and for the youngsters in the audience it adds a magical quality to the entire affair, dazzling them in the process.
The Invisible Man is a triumphant spectacle that is enjoyable for all ages that creatively plays with recognition and visibility. While the chaotic elements of the piece do become a bit too much towards the end, that doesn’t make it any less fun.