DramaNorth WestReviewSite-Specific

The Factory – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Devised by: The Company

Director: Matt Hassall

Designer: Bethany Wells

Sound Designer: Gerry Marsden

Reviewer: Brendan James

The Young Company at The Royal Exchange have departed from their home in St Ann’s Square and have taken their latest production of The Factory to the theatres’ studio space on Swan Street to create an ambitious site-specific and immersive new work.

On arrival, the actors are unshakably committed to their roles and improvise well with the audience, who are taken from the street in a lift, transporting them down into the factory and the hub of Chrysalis. The atmosphere is sterile and unnervingly perfect; the actors introduce the new ‘candidates’ with an almost threatening warmth and sincerity.

The level of sophistication in their performances is remarkable and the quality of the detail in their work is of a high standard. As the audience move throughout the factory, we meet staff from marketing, cosmetics, motivation and sales. There is a somewhat disturbing perfection to the business. We are frequently assured that Chrysalis is a cutting-edge, innovative company with an overwhelming line of products and that we are all now family. This attempt at comfort against such plastic smiles creates a juxtaposition that is employed throughout the performance and works well in this dystopian fantasy.

Designer Bethany Wells has completely transformed the space. Each room is characterful and intelligently presented. The running theme of consumerism in the play is echoed with the Chrysalis brand on full display wherever the eye roams. Even going so far as to include stimulation of the olfactory senses, Wells and director Matt Hassall have not wasted a single opportunity to help the audience become invested in this reality. The promenade aspect is proved successful, as we’re unable to take our attention away from the world of Chrysalis, no matter how much you may want to at times. The pace of the acting, saturation of the design, the addition of well-crafted sound (designed by Gerry Marsden) and smells, means the performance stays with you long after you leave it.

With immersive theatre and chilling subject matter, performers are at the mercy of the behaviour of their audience. Again, the production company display an incredible level of focus and commitment, responding to matters in the moment, convincingly and confidently.

This project is ambitious, bold and thrilling; exactly what theatre needs to be. The Young Company have set a high standard and is a real credit for the work being produced by The Royal Exchange.

Reviewed on 23 August 2016 | Image:Joel Fildes

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