In a great theatre show the audience is never passive. They are the unlisted in the programme but essential character in the performance the one that brings it fully alive. Without the audience the show is a corpse. They laugh, they gasp, they lean forward in their seats all holding their breath together. When it happens it’s magical, when it doesn’t, I’m with Noel Coward when he says: “I will accept anything in the theatre . . . provided it amuses or moves me. But if it does neither, I want to go home.”
So, I reckon it’s a mistake to think that because you are on your feet rather than sitting down that makes the experience less passive. But you are correct that the fourth wall in a traditional theatre set-up prevents the audience from interacting with the play. Though Great Aunt Cecily says there have been plenty of times during her 80 years of theatre-going when she has been tempted to leap up onto the stage and shout, “for the love of god, just stop.”
But, of course, some shows are designed to be interactive and within the structure of the piece allow the audience to have some agency. Often these shows have an element of game playing about them, whether they are on-line or in person. In the case of the latter frequently they are immersive and site responsive to some degree. It doesn’t have to be on a grand scale like some of Punchdrunk’s offerings over the years.
Crisis? What Crisis? by Parabolic Theatre.
I suspect that you are not alone in feeling you want to return to the theatre but need to be tempted back with something different, something that feels like an experience and not just a show. A good place to start is at CoLab in South London which over the last few years has produced a number of shows that have gone on to have longer lives. Parabolic’s Crisis? What Crisis? –in which the audience must advise Jim Callaghan’s 1979 crisis-wracked government, is currently playing off-site at New Diorama Theatre, and later this year The Great Gatsby returns to Immersive Ldn. Both began at CoLab.
So, I’d advise heading down to South London to catch Crooks 1926, a show which I first saw in an early version back in 2016 when it’s potential and ingenuity was obvious despite the rough edges. It has since resurfaced in several iterations, the latest of which provides exactly the kind of night out that fits what you are looking for.
Crooks 1926. Photo by Matthew Kaltenborn.
You will find yourself plunged into a seedy underworld around the time of the general strike where in South London rival gangs are trying to gain the upper hand. It’s a game of cat and mouse in which lives are on the line, and one in which you can join in an evening that includes puzzle-solving, bare knuckle fighting and horse race betting. You can even dress up 1920s style. It’s certainly won’t be a passive experience and like so much interactive theatre the more you put into the more you get out.