Saturday, 20 October 2012

Borderline Vultures, Secret Location, Salford Quays 19/10/12

Borderline Vultures is the latest of the productions in the InOnTheAct festival commissioned jointly by The Lowry and The Quays Arts and Cultural Development. It is turning out to be a wonderful series of works, and this latest creation is no exception. In fact ‘normal’ theatre is going to seem ever so dull after this!

Ever since I’d seen Happystorm Theatre’s brilliant ‘CryptProject : New Depths’ earlier this year I had been excited to see what they would come up with next, so, when details began to emerge about their latest commission, Borderline Vultures, there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to experience it. Happystorm ‘get’ social media, and on the run up to this production they’ve used it very effectively in order to keep in touch with their supporters and build up interest in the production, without ever giving anything away.

Immersive theatre seems to be becoming more common these days, or maybe I’m actively seeking it out. It’s where you get to fully experience a production rather than just watching it. When done well it can fool with your head and before you know it you forget you are an observer of a creation and almost become part of it. This production takes that one step even further by allowing the participants a degree of independence in the way they experience the event, and allows them to actually influence the action. It must require a real leap of faith by the actors involved as you can’t ever predict exactly how your audience will choose to react. The creators, performers and designers of this production did an amazing job in creating a truly absorbing and unforgettable experience.
The only drawbacks to something as unique and exciting as this are that you can only ever really experience it to full effect once with the magic intact (but that really makes it all the more special in my eyes), and that, as a blogger I have the same dilemma as I did with You Once Said Yes – how do I convey how great it was without spoiling it for someone who has yet to experience it?  So this account will be necessarily light on detail I’m afraid.

Audience members gather in the bar of the Holiday Inn and are welcomed to the experience by representatives of a mysterious organisation Syntech (this isn’t a spoiler – it’s on the website!). They are then escorted in small groups to a nearby secret  location where events will unfold. And then, to a great extent, it’s up to you to explore this strange world and interact with its inhabitants, most of whom do not share a common language with you. Initially I was a bit confused as to what my purpose was (although I did prove myself to be completely incapable of following a very simple instruction – sorry Laura!), but quickly the intrigue builds as you explore the environment and interact with and observe some of the characters that inhabit the facility. Before too long you are completely absorbed in the adventure, searching for clues that will help you understand what is happening, building up conspiracy theories, joining up with complete strangers to explore spaces, and in my case proving without a shadow of a doubt that what I lack in co-ordination I can make up for in enthusiasm! The more you open up to this experience, the more you will get out of it.

Cleverly designed and devised, the attention to detail is amazing, there is so much to engage the curious mind. The cast are excellent, completely convincing and engaging from the start, even without a common language, and you really start to care about them. There is a nice blend of mystery and playfulness, and an extremely joyous denouement culminating in an onsite bar where the participants excitedly discuss their experience.

All in all, this was a wonderfully innovative and well realised creation that I was so glad I experienced. It left me feeling excited, energised and reluctant to leave – I could have stayed in that world for much longer. In fact, if you’ll excuse the dreadful pun I left this amazing Happystorm adventure stormingly happy, and once again privileged to have been a part of it.

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