Audience, St George's West, Edinburgh
Monday 15 August 2011
Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed are know for pushing their audiences with their interactive work, but this time they don't just become part of the process, they become the subject too.
A camera on stage is trained on us, tracking slowly across the audience and projecting what it finds onto an enormous screen. Actors, sitting amongst us, begin to do voiceovers articulating our inner thoughts. These often sound overly profound but they're also funny, acknowledging the discomfort of the situation. There can even be an odd beauty to certain juxtapositions.
Then it gets more personal. An actor begins to harrass a young girl in the front row – viciously, violently, swearing at her and calling her ugly. We all see her silent distress, as the camera goes close up on her face. He tries to persuade her to spread her legs. Whether or not this is a plant, there is suddenly a very nasty feeling in the room.
Are we meant to feel guilty about what we'll all collude in, watch happily? The problem with this kind of show is that we know too much; we likely all know it's going to be controversial, going to be about audience responses, going to be interactive. Is it possible to have a genuine reaction? When I watch, two young men get to their feet to say “stop” - but such an action was even suggested by an actor. We're not a formerly passive audience galvanised into breaking boundaries; we're manipulated. And we know we're here to be manipulated.
The show ends with film footage of crowds, from massive praying congregations to rock concerts to political rallies to – how apt - violent riots. This convinces of both the power and danger of crowds, that together we're stronger but we're also dumber. Ironically, it is plunging us into darkness and letting us be a passive audience which really reveals herd mentality. It's not as uncomfortable, but it makes the point more succinctly than all their snide, self-referential hijinks.
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