Directors: Joe Ball & Chris Neels
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Every year the Vaults Festival seems to get bigger, more shows, extra social areas and more performance spaces including a mini-warren of rooms temporarily given over to Exit Productions for their latest immersive venture Fight Night. Using the build-up to a boxing match as its theme, it’s part theatre, part mystery game, asking the audience to determine the outcome of the fight by scouting for clues and placing bets on the winner.
Gathering in a designated area outside the main entrance to the Vaults, a small group is led to a “secret” location and divided into two teams – representing north and south of the river – and assigned to a boxer who they are tasked with supporting. Given a stack of casino chips with which to make bets, over the next 90-minutes as the odds change rapidly, the teams are instructed to work together, share information and find out what’s really going on behind the scenes.
Of course, in practice it’s every man or woman for themselves and almost as soon as the early structured aspects of the show are concluded, the teams separate, re-join their friends and disperse around the various ante-chambers doubling as dressing rooms, the doctor’s office and a sparring area where conversations can be overheard, documents stolen and deals brokered. Some members of the audience volunteer to be part of the boxer’s support team, others act as (rather suspect) judges – as always with immersive theatre the more you play along, the more you get out of it.
At various points actors will sidle up to you and ask you to do their character a dodgy favour, offering you money in return for helping them out. There is a tone of dishonesty, of moral corruption running through the show, bribes are a common feature but what is perhaps most interesting is how readily audience members take them, happy to plot and scheme at the slightest inducement for characters we don’t know are trustworthy. Saying no seems to surprise them, this is not a world of moral standards.
Fight Night has been created with notable attention to detail, every aspect worked out, ensuring that small audience groups see different bits of the story at any one time, and there is much to discover including the personal and professional experiences of the boxers, as well as the shady dealings that implicate the doctor, the venue manager and others. The actors – Rachel Switlick, Brendan O’rourke, Ben Lydon, Hannah Samuels, Edward Linard, Pete Grimwood and Simon Pothecary – remain fully and believably in character, responding to questions and constantly aware, even in the small moments with only one or two witnesses, what can be seen.
At times the structure goes awry however and despite a strong early section in the dressing room with your allotted boxer followed by the media interviews in the central ring, that sense of teamwork dissipates almost instantly. An overlong middle section leaves people to wander fairly aimlessly between scenes, and a lot of information depends on you being in the right place at the right time, occasionally prevented from entering curtained areas for unspecified reasons. It’s clear though, by the end, that some audience members have sold their soul to whatever conspiracy is happening, but you never really know how that changed the fight outcomes or what all that (mis)information really meant.
If you’re prepared to step into the ring and leave your scruples at home, then you could get a lot out of Exit Productions latest immersive show. It builds to a well-choreographed final fight that ramps up the tension while, under fight director Jonathan Holby, survives the close proximity of the audience. Yet with a team structure that never quite takes hold and no big denouement at the end, you might leave feeling everyone else knew something you didn’t.
Reviewed on 31 January 2019 | Image: Mark Senior