Writer/Director: Silvia Mercuriali
Reviewer: Sam Lowe
“We have said too much already”. Hush Hush is a Pay What You Decide event. Nothing about the show is revealed to the audience until they arrive at the theatre – afterwards, they can decide how much the show was worth. Tonight’s grand reveal is Macondo, a New Theatre Royal Portsmouth Co-commision supported by Barbican Open Lab and funded by Arts Council England.
It is a contemporary performance that is an eclectic fusion of instruction based theatre, binaural sound through headphones, and spoken word to create an immersive theatre experience. The audience members end up choosing between, Beginners, Intermediate, Advanced, and Hero – becoming active participants following different audio tracks which shape their component part in the show.
The theatrical event takes place in an empty space and is brought to life by the audience and performers that inhabit it; their destiny is decided well in advance. You constantly ask: “Who is an audience member, who is a performer?” Maybe, it doesn’t matter?
Headphones are worn throughout. Before entering the theatre, the audience are referred to as the theatre company. We are given an act one beginners call, we hear the orchestra warming up, and the audience talking in front of the curtains in anticipation of the play. This is clever and amusing considering we chat to one another in excitement for what is to come.
Sitting down in the theatre, there is an awareness of the metatheatrical nature of this performance. Onstage there is clearly marked stage tape, a lighting desk, and a suitcase of costumes. For the first 10/15 minutes, no one is on stage and it is dark. We hear the “behind the scenes” crew arguing with one another about how the performers are nowhere to be found. In short, this becomes an audio immersive version of The Play That Goes Wrong. It does remind you of just how hard a backstage team work and also how often they might be forgotten about during a theatrical event.
Eventually, a man is instructed to walk across the stage and an act of theatre takes place. In this malicious game of responding to instructions, the performance deconstructs themes of death, violence, repetition, narrative templates, stereotyping, and indoctrination. It is an investigation into the novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. We respond to commands on the screen or spoken to us through our headphones: this is beautifully disorientating and shocking.
The line between who is an audience member and who is a performer becomes blurred; the border between who is leading and who is following is shattered. There is a cast list in the programme, but you still can’t tell which one is an actor. We become the submissive ants that are referenced in the elements of spoken word: we take on their role and innate characteristics. Only by working together, can we put the show on.
Which brings me to my next point. A lot of the show relies heavily on audience participation, but the Hush Hush event didn’t warn us about this, because of the secretive nature of the event. It would have been worthwhile to maybe mention about it in the advert because not everyone is so keen on audience participation. While the “instruction based” segment of the show is an overall success, thanks to the early testing of the show when it was being devised, some scenes could be tighter here and there.
What’s clever about this show is how everything is predetermined yet the unknowing audience’s reaction to instructions makes it alive and spontaneous. This can be likened to the nature of acting: an actor knows what they have to do in a play, yet the actor has to live their part like it’s for the first time. Overall verdict: a captivating, clever, and playful exploration of the audience and performer relationship.
Reviewed on: 21st September 2018.