“Do you like dancing?” a member of the cast asks. If you’ve found way into The Populars, a ballsy piece of immersive theatre, let’s hope so. Mixing the discomfort of a school disco with the awkwardness of current UK politics, this is not a show for fans of storylines or of personal space. It revels in the discomfort it creates in the room, whilst also offering a weirdly unifying experience for those taking part.
Set in a club with a handful of revellers, initially not much happens – apart from a lot of sweaty crotch thrusting to Jump Around by House of Pain, as startled audience members frantically avoid eye contact. But then the lights come up and the cast, still dancing, begin to speak: a mixture of scripted and improvised dialogue pondering Brexit and a divided British Isles.
There’s a lot of nervous laughter throughout, alongside some genuinely funny moments – particularly when the performers are playfully exploring national stereotypes. By the end, for better or worse, we had bonded as only those who have been intimidated by an upbeat Fleetwood Mac dance routine can. There was a real sense of camaraderie as we left.
The dialogue treads a fine line between being overly contrived and genuinely powerful, and much of the hour is occupied by tight, if slightly aimless choreography. But there is no doubt that it’s a truly original performance, even if it only lightly addressed the causes of a divided society.
It’s not for the faint-hearted, and wannabe participants might want to think about a pre-show whisky or four. But beneath the gyrating hips and loose dialogue, it’s a piece that puts the audience at its heart, and a guaranteed experience of the type that defines the Fringe. The Populars are populists and will take you with them one way or another… leaving you happily dancing with complete strangers.