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

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

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.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us