August 21, 2013
An immersive theatre performance of Oscar Wilde’s only published novel, performed in the creative director’s home, a Greenwich townhouse. Tickets available in advance only, £25 – £35. www.thealchemicorder.com. Until 28 September 2013
Review by Rob Reason
‘Immersive’ and ‘site-specific’ have become recognised terms to describe a type of theatre that takes advantage of the environment, usually having a mobile audience, and maybe even audience participation. Some performances, such as the mysterious In the Beginning was the End, at Somerset House last winter, and the diabolical Babel last summer, rely little on dialogue (‘non text-based theatre’), and have resulted in variable feedback from the audience.
So with my repertoire of questionable experiences in the genre, it was with trepidation that I knocked on the door of a Georgian townhouse last Friday. I was here to attend a performance of the Oscar Wilde Classic, The Picture of Dorian Gray, with a friend. We were greeted by a servant in finely-dressed in Victorian attire, and cheerily asked “Are you here to see Dorian?”.
As we joined the other ‘guests’ in the living room we were asked if we would like a drink. Later we were advised on how to get the best out of the performance, most notably that we should sit or move around as we feel fit. “Don’t be afraid of the actors,” we were told. Whereupon we were whisked into a dark room to commence the story. It’s tale of a young man called Dorian Gray who pledges his soul in exchange for his portrait bearing the burden of age.
It’s an intimate performance, with only 25 members of the audience. The actors walk amongst you as the story unfolds. At one point I found myself standing in a corridor with the audience looking at me. I was puzzled for a moment, then looking over my shoulder I saw one of the characters, young Sybil Vane (played by Ashlie Walker), stoney-faced, staring past me. “Is she trying to get past me?” I thought. “Shall I move?”. Comforted by the former advice from the servants, I stayed put. Then she walked past, in character, despite the amused smiles from the audience around. It’s this feeling of being so close that you makes you feel part of the story.
For a unique and engrossing performance of a classic, this is one not to miss. If you haven’t read the book before I recommend staying as close the action as possible, as you may miss the odd thread of the story as the actors move between rooms.