Immersive theatre proves to be the best form of escapism, standing the test of time and teaching the child living in us all how to have fun again.
On a recent night out I was asked by a friend why I wasn’t interested in recreational drug use. I responded explaining that I was, and am, trying to avoid that kind of escapism. As someone whose go-to coping mechanism is denial, it seems foolish to find yet another vice to help me bury my head in the sand and enable my bad habit of ignoring reality. I also (pretentiously) suggested that I was looking for an authentic lived experience, one not augmented by substance abuse. I slurred that shocker of a statement after several gin and tonics, making me a filthy hypocrite. While I am in no way advocating drug use here, I am suggesting that we all need a little escapism from time to time. Lately I have taken refuge, not in the effects of a pill or a powder, but in immersive theatre.
Immersive theatre doesn’t just break the fourth wall; it dismantles the entire room
Immersive theatre experiences have been popping up for around a decade, led by theatre companies such as Punchdrunk, with their cult hit The Drowned Man performed from 2013-14. As a young drama student, I was so inspired by the concept I had the poor audience of my A-level Drama performance sit on very uncomfortable swivel chairs to mimic the movement of immersive theatre. My secondary school drama studio was not large enough to accommodate the warehouse size spaces most immersive theatre experience require, so my visions of theatrical grandeur were not entirely realised. Most performances are highly costly and the companies’ attention to detail is breath-taking in order to create a sense of verisimilitude. While all theatre comes in many forms, the possibilities here are endless. Immersive theatre doesn’t just break the fourth wall; it dismantles the entire room, creating an infinite fantastical space for its audience to play in.
I found myself lost down the rabbit hole in the Les Enfants Terribles production of Alice’s Adventures Underground. This multi-sensory experience featured the company’s famed circus tricks in the guise of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, who somersaulted in giant baby heads above our own, spraying us with water from their baby bottles. Who needs hallucinogens? Our guides were walking and talking cards; we heard the lament of the Mock Turtle in the rain and attended a court hearing with the Jabberwocky. It was mad, entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret – all the best shows are.
I witnessed grown businessmen salute the Queen of Hearts with the call of a flamingo, and girls nearly break ankles running in heels to follow Gatsby
A week later I found myself transported back to 1920’s America, learning to Charleston with Jay Gatsby. I helped Daisy choose her outfit for her surprise tea party and drank whiskey in Gatsby’s study. For this occasion, attendees, myself included, had dressed in their 1920’s best and we were all ready for the party of the (previous) century. With an afterparty that went on till two in the morning, mint juleps and newly acquired dance moves, the mood was electric.
These kinds of events make you a part of a world more exciting and fantastical than your own. This kind of theatre refuses to allow you to remain a spectator; your actions, words and movements directly affect the experience you have. Every show is entirely unique. By attending an immersive show you allow yourself to explore and discover, to frolic like a child in the playground alongside characters who want you to play with them. I witnessed grown businessmen salute the Queen of Hearts with the call of a flamingo, and girls nearly break ankles running in heels to follow Gatsby into the night. It is nigh on impossible to worry about the world outside; while holding the White Rabbit’s hand I wasn’t concerned with the latest Trump tweet or my friend’s latest Instagram post of her looking unattainably gorgeous in Bali.
A little madness, at times, is in order, just to stay sane.
We, in the 21st century, are so constantly bombarded with ‘reality’, in the form of news updates and social media, that we forget how to be authentically childlike, to lose ourselves in a moment of fantasy, to escape a reality that chases us like a bad dream. Perhaps now, more than ever, escapism in any form is necessary. A little madness, at times, is in order, just to stay sane. As the exchange between Alice and the Mad Hatter goes:
“Do you think I’ve gone round the bend?”
“I’m afraid so. You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”
Image: Rah Petherbridge