* If you’re intending to see Audience at Soho Theatre, but would rather the vast majority of the content were a surprise, then please don’t read on just yet but come back after you’ve experienced it and tell me what you thought!
I start this post feeling licked before I already try; after all, what new thoughts could there possibly be added to the plethora of reviews and dissections of Ontroerend Goed’s Audience?
Here’s my confession: I read as little as possible before going into the show. In fact, I had no idea before setting foot in Soho Theatre’s auditorium that it was even ‘interactive’, having read little more than the show’s title and brief glowing pull-out quotes from critics who saw its earlier incarnations. I tried to preserve an element of surprise for myself.
And while I’m glad I did, while I’m glad I didn’t know what was coming, I’m even more glad that someone else in the audience went in there somewhat gunning for a fight. You know why? It saved my own sense of shame in not knowing how or when or even if I ought to react to what was happening.
But to clarify: after a somewhat beautiful and relaxed sweep of the audience by a video camera connected to a giant projection screen, and a few brief musings on you-as-the-performance, the audience are jolted out of this gentle perusal of themselves in a rather nasty way. There’s a young woman in the audience on the front row. She’s pretty – very much so – and the warm-up guy begins to heckle her, his language is vulgar, his remarks vicious.
Now, had Webcowgirl not been there, had she not been utterly vocal and staunch in her defence of this woman (was she a plant?! Was she genuinely an audience member?), then I would have been unlikely to add my voice – small though it felt – to those objecting. I felt genuinely paralysed. On the one hand, you’re burning up with indignance, what he’s saying isn’t ‘okay’. But then you are the audience, you’re trapped in these self-styled codes of conduct. It might just be the play. It’s not real. It’s not real…and one minute you’re flipping through the possible reactions
well he obviously wants me to react, so I’ll stay quiet
but being quiet and ‘not reacting’ may be the ‘reaction’ he’s looking for
but how do you stay quiet in the face of that?
…surely that’s what they’re after anyway…
What would have happened if one person hadn’t spoken so loudly, so quickly? Where would it have gone? Where would we have let it go? Am I a wuss for being pretty glad it never got there? And at what point does the theatre stop being a safe enough space for what is happening and becomes simply wrong?
The staged manipulations throughout the show – the applauding, heckling, the music, the political rhetoric – I often genuinely didn’t mind, after all, there’s no moral quandary in whether you should get up and dance. Whether something makes you look stupid is in the eye of the beholder and quite frankly, other people’s thoughts on whether I look stupid or not couldn’t bother me less.
But I keep coming back to that girl in my mind, to that paralysing Bystander Effect, to the choices you make and the unwritten social contracts you’ll enter into, to the detriment of other people simply because there’s safety in numbers.
* Next Twespians is our Christmas shindig in Charterhouse Bar, Farringdon. If you work in or enjoy theatre, come down for a pint and a damn good evening!