Sarah Grochala’s dark and gritty production could go further in terms of immersion.
Samuel Ireland as Col and Gabriella Munro as May in S-27. Photo: Susie Blatchford of Pixel Poetry.
S-27 is a dystopian theatre piece which asks you how far you would go and who you would betray to save yourself.
The first sentence on the ticketing home page is a somewhat gentle warning to future audience members about the content: ‘Please note this is an immersive theatre experience with strong themes. Not recommended for children.’
‘Immersion’ is the new buzzword thrown around by theatre companies, designers, educators and event planners. Thankfully in this case it is not the act of putting something or someone completely under the surface of a liquid, but rather the act of completely being involved in something!
As a gallery and theatre goer, I have to admit the idea of immersion is alluring. Punchdrunk’s presentation of Sleep No More really brought this type of theatre to the fore, and since then companies of all shapes and sizes have sought to capture the essence so perfectly bottled at the McKittrick Hotel, with varying degrees of success.
S-27 follows May, a photographer who must document dissenters who have rebelled against an authoritarian regime. The venue, initially called the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum, later renamed as The Asylum for the Clinically Insane and now known and loved as Fremantle Arts Centre is brilliantly suited to this show.
The procedures start with audience members being called from the beauty and serenity of the arts centre’s warmly lit front garden into position to enter the performance space. Without giving away exact details, what can be said is that the calls are aggressive, and from what can be heard from within the hallowed walls, things don’t seem to be any different up ahead. Immediately hackles are up, attention is grabbed and anticipation levels are high.
Having spoken to several members of the test audience, it seems tactics may have been calmed and amended from initial thinkings, but audience members are chosen for specific experiences at random at this point, so one cannot be completely sure. I do believe a more stringent warning is necessary on the ticketing page though, as depending on individual sensibilities the approach may easily be determined overly heavy-handed. Immersion is one thing, shock is another.
S-27 invites the viewer to put themselves in May’s shoes and imagines a dark, complex future for Western Australia.
The series of characters are an intriguing bunch, who easily hold an audience’s interest for the 80 minutes duration. The cast is young, really young, but generally really damn good. This is not an easy show: the characters are dark and dirty (literally), and both the script and actions require true grit, and this lot has that in spades.
Originally presented at London’s pocket-sized Finsborough Theatre that concentrates almost exclusively on thought-provoking new writing, I can imagine the London performance took the set and immersion a few steps further, but for an audience attending a show presented as part of Fremantle Festival (10 Nights in Port 2019) by a relatively new company, my wild assumptions say things were simplified somewhat. The set is stark, but that’s what is called for, and it works in the beautiful space. It was clever to place the audience on the sidelines, but true immersion could see that go further.
What I can say is that nothing kills an immersive show quite like the expectation of an audience to clap at the end, turning on the fluoros and marching them back to reality. This show deserves a more interesting and fluid ending as it’s a curious journey, and making an audience walk through ‘that door’ to leave would have upped the ante.
It is difficult to write about the content of the show without giving away the crux of the plot, but this is definitely worth a visit and will make you think about the state of your life, your surroundings and your world. If you like Black Mirror, A Handmaid’s Tale and dystopian modern adventures in general, S-27 is for you.
3 stars out of 5 ★★★
by Sarah Grochala
Presented by Feet First Collective as part of the 10 Nights in Port 2019
Producer, Director and Movement Coach: Teresa Izzard
Designer: Laura Heffernan
Sound Design: John Congear
Lighting Design: Andrew Portwine
Cast: Samuel Addison, Matthew Arnold, Sally Clune, Trinity Emery Rowe, Caitlyn Griffiths, Aodhan Guy, Samuel Ireland and Gabriella Munro
12 July-21 July 2019
Pavlich Room, Fremantle Arts Centre WA
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