Director: Zoe Svendsen and Simon Daw
Game Co-Writers:Zoe Svendsen, Simon Daw, Kate O’Connor, Brian Walters, David Issacs
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
Immersive Theatre – terrifying or engaging? Select 1 for terrifying or 2 for engaging. You have 45 seconds to choose…
- Isn’t all theatre meant to be immersive? We’re not talking onstage stand up ritual humiliation here
- How much more engaging can it be than to shape the action of a piece as it unfolds around you?
We’re not used to being forced to make such direct decisions as a theatre audience, but in Metis’ World Factory audience are not only encouraged to make decisions, it’s essential for the operation of the show.
For those who select the terrifying opinion of immersive theatre let’s be clear. This isn’t about standing up and performing, the interaction here is talking to three of your fellow audience members as you take on the rôle of a Duty Manager in a Chinese textile factory. Over the course of 90 minutes, you are presented with a series of dilemmas that pitches ethics against profit as you attempt to do the best for your fictional factory. Do well and you are rewarded with a garment to mark your production, make a poor choice and funds or workers are deducted from your equity.
It’s like a giant game of Monopoly or Risk but playing with people’s livelihoods. Around you videos play of actual textile factories and the background soundtrack, coupled with noise from neighbouring groups, gives a real sense of the chaotic world these workers inhabit.
This isn’t all fun, however. The subtle power of this piece is the interweaving of the thought-provoking real life challenges audiences are forced to confront with verbatim testimony from those involved in the textile industry.
Zoe Svendsen and Simon Daw’s direction ensures the audience are integral to the production. Gone is any barrier between stage and auditorium as the audience become 60 extra cast members. Around them a quartet of performers, Naomi Christie, Lucy Ellinson, Heather Lai and Jamie Martin act as guides, co-workers and ruthless buyers seeking to extract the last piece of profit from the evening.
With such interaction and with every choice leading to a possible alternative dramatic route no two experiences on the night are the same, let alone across multiple performances. There are though common themes that shine through. Global pressures from consumers, the trend to see fashion items as disposable, the balance between a happy workforce and a cost effective production – all key to understanding the true impact of our consumerist society.
It’s a beguiling concept that can’t help draw you in. While initial decisions may be taken fairly lightly, as the web of action and reaction unfolds you can’t help but try and think one step ahead of what possible future impact this action may have. As live totals of profit made, workers paid and garments produced is collated at the end of the evening the global scale of the problems facing the industry hit home and hit home fast.
Supporting the piece is an ingenious use of technology that gives the piece a real sense of inventiveness. As players scan a barcode to registers their decision, a member of the cast brings them their next challenge on the route to commercial success or failure. With synchronised sound effects and an increasingly fractious fellow workforce, it creates the perfect environment.
Part theatre, part documentary, part adventure game, World Factory is as varied as the garments these factories produce. It’s also one of those productions that so closely engages its audience in a specific and personal moment that any attempt to capture that essence on paper is never going to fully explore the piece without entering into spoilers.
Suffice to say Metis have come up with a production that not only entertains but also stimulates plenty of discussion long after the show has finished. Whatever route your game in the World Factory takes you’ll never look at that £5 t-shirt in the same light again.
So back to that question. Immersive Theatre – terrifying or engaging? Select 1 for terrifying or 2 for engaging. You have 45 seconds to choose…
Runs until April 3o then at London’s Young Vic Theatre 11-30 May