Thursday 9 June 2011

Theatre more real and technology less fake

When We Meet Again, New Wolsey Studio, Ipswich

Me and the Machine’s When We Meet Again is only a ten-minute show, but it feels like a long, lazy summer of love. It is a transformational piece of theatre - a brilliant example of how technology can pull us deep inside a show rather than simply adding extra gloss.

The premise is simple and the technology complex. Outside the theatre, an alarming array of machines is presented to the audience of one. Some severe-looking goggles are clamped to your face, headphones plonked on your head. It feels odd and disconcerting. Yet, in a matter of minutes, you will forget these objects are there. You will forget where you are completely.

A grey screen flickers in front of your eyes and a carefree soundtrack, tinged with melancholy (ala Amelie) whistles through your ears. A girl speaks to you: ’‘When I first met you, you could see me but I couldn’t see you’. The girl, now in an abandoned carpark, walks away. Unthinkingly, you follow her. It’s only a few steps in a darkened theatre, but it feels like a frightening adventure.

Suddenly, you are on the shore with your lover. You stroll dreamily for a while and stop when your companion hands you a strawberry. Back in the ‘real’ world, something soft is also placed in your palms. In synch with the screen projection (played only in your head, thus creating the uncanny impression that these are in fact your own personal memories), you lift the strawberry to your mouth. That pixel image starts to smell of something. It even starts to taste of something. It is an extraordinary moment – a complete merging of technology, theatre, reality – and the brain pulses with sensual possibility.

These mesmerising crossovers, which make the theatre seem more real and the technology less fake, continue. At one point, we are shown a few dance moves. Once we’ve got the hang of the steps, a hand appears from nowhere and together, audience and actor glide – or stumble – together. So often, technologically innovative theatre is too bossy: screens demand where the audience should look and invasive sound effects dictate the focus of each moment. But When We Meet Again is a delicate, utterly mutual experience; a multimedia show that guides you, hand in hand, into another dimension. Wonderful.

Part of the Ipswich fringe festival Pulse, 26 May – 11 June 2011


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