Submersive theatre: a bigger splash!

'Fuerzabruta' is back says Paul Bignell, and the antics are edgier, louder and messier than ever

If your idea of a good night out at the theatre involves a cerebral interpretation of a classic work, viewed from a comfortable seat, with a discussion of its highlights over a glass of brandy during the interval, Fuerzabruta probably isn't for you.

If, however, you dare to brave the Argentinian physical-theatre extravaganza this winter, throughout its duration you're likely to be blasted with hot air, herded around the theatre space like well-choreographed cattle, potentially soaked to the bone and, if you're very lucky, dragged up on stage and made to dance in front of (several hundred) members of the audience. Sounds like fun? Well, you're in luck. More than six years since Fuerzabruta (which means brute force) stormed north London's Roundhouse and then the world, it returns this Christmas promising even more exhilaration than last time around.

Then, critics fell over themselves to describe the show: "ferociously stimulating", said one; "acrobatically breathtaking" gasped our own Kate Bassett.

So it was with no little trepidation that I accepted the invitation to meet some of the cast in New York recently. As before, there's nothing resembling a plot – it is, I am told beforehand, about overloading the senses with a series of set-piece stunts, neatly segued by a pulsating, techno-folk soundtrack. The audience gets as perilously close to the action as the company's insurance providers will presumably allow – which, in this brave new world of pure-performance theatre, is very close indeed.

One of the central, recurring set-pieces involves a man in a white suit, walking on a conveyor belt in the centre of the room. As the belt accelerates dramatically, plastic tables and chairs are placed in his way, closely followed by people Ω who drop heavily off the other side like theatrical lemmings. He's now running, and very fast. Then a gun-shot rings out and the audience gasps. Two women, wailing like banshees, run around the sides of the room attached to a motorised high-wire, some 25 feet up. It's tiring just watching.

The show is the creation of Argentine director Diqui James. If his name's not familiar, his work might be: his first show, De La Guarda, was also a hit at the Roundhouse more than a decade ago and encompassed the same mixture of theatre, dance and improvised acrobatics. A falling out with a business partner meant James had to relinquish the name, but he and his crew then had the freedom to create something new. So in 2005, Fuerzabruta was born.

Since then the show has travelled the world performing everywhere from Bogota to Berlin and from Moscow to Manila. On Broadway alone, more than half a million people have seen the show since 2007, with music giants Jay-Z and Beyoncé, and actor Jude Law said to be fans.

Buenos Aires-based James believes the key to its success is keeping audiences excited. "Nowadays, I think audiences need to be very stimulated to really wake them up," he tells me. "I think we are already so stimulated during the day with everything that's going on in the city. You need to have a lot of energy to move people.

"We want to go faster than your mind," he says, "like you are living something for the first time. Then when you leave the show, you start thinking about what happened. We want to be powerful enough and fast enough that you are involved in everything."

All of which means Fuerzabruta is a close-knit team. The seven performers work alongside five ushers who skilfully direct the crowd around the floor space – no easy feat in itself. But the cast members don't disappear backstage when they're not involved in a particular setpiece. They can be seen aiding their colleagues with the stunts as well as directing the crowd.

Such a physical performance on and off stage takes its toll on cast members, who generally perform seven times a week during the summer months.

Holly Shunkey, Fuerzabruta's "dance captain", describes to me, on the day after the show, the physical rigours involved: "We have physical therapy at work and we all do other things to really take care of our body," she says. "I've found over time, my body has adapted for what it needs to do." She adds that the most common problems are neck and knee injuries.

One of the most talked-about setpieces includes a giant see-through swimming pool, hoisted above the audience's heads, in which four of the female cast zip and swirl around like flotsam. The pool, at times, is lowered so that the audience can reach up and touch it.

Stephen Shaw, the show's producer, believes there are no limits to such immersive theatre. "The audience are seeing something they've never seen before," he says. "There's nothing in the world like it. The feeling you get … how energetic and powerful it is."

The past decade has witnessed a boom in theatre that wrenches audiences out of traditional auditoria. From large-scale, site-specific performances such as Michael Sheen's 72-hour play, the Passion of Port Talbot, to the immersive theatre of Punchdrunk, where people have wandered around the tunnels beneath Waterloo Station for hours; to the physical extravaganza put on by the likes of the Fuerzabruta, company, Cirque du Soleil and La Clique. Often audiences are expected to join in.

James says he has always had the desire to increase audience participation in his work.

"Nowadays you have a lot of individual experiences with art," he says. "I can watch a film at home or in my car; I can listen to music or read a book by myself .... The theatre is the only form of art where you need the audience and the cast in the same place. For me it is boring for you to sit down in a theatre – it's like watching TV at home. I like to move the 'camera' – I have to move you and the stage."

Appropriately for an experience that pushes the bounds of theatre, some performances will give way to a club night – sadly, there are no plans to do this in London.

But if the New York performances are to be repeated on this side of the Atlantic, the audiences should have more than enough to keep them occupied. As the evening drew to a close, three hip, young New Yorkers step outside, wearing ear-to-ear grins, soaked to the skin. So, if you think Fuerzabruta is for you, perhaps bring a towel.

'Fuerzabruta' is at London's Roundhouse, 27 Dec Ω 26 Jan 2013 (0844 482 8008); roundhouse.org.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test