Love Letters Straight From Your Heart, Lakeside, Colchester

by Camela Cuison

When Love Letters Straight From Your Heart came to the Lakeside in Colchester, on February 22, Valentine’s Day wasn’t yet a distant memory, and the never-ending war between the loved-up and the singled-out was still ringing in my ears. Although among the latter this year, I remain a shameless lover of love. Anything that can encourage our cold wintered hearts to thaw can never be fully encompassed by a Clinton’s card.

Enter Love Letters Straight from Your Heart. Prior to the show, members of the audience were invited to send “dedications” to the ones they love with a song of their choosing. (Since music is such a fundamental part of this show, I feel the need to tell you that as I write this I am being serenaded by the King himself with ‘Are you Lonesome tonight?’ and Chet Baker’s heart-breaking 1959 performance of ‘My Funny Valentine’.)

On arrival, the audience sat around a dinner table, armed with a glass of bubbly (merely an accompaniment to my glass of red). As the first dedications rolled out, I felt like I was being sucked into a more consuming version of Mellow Magic’s love letters. But then it dawned on me: these dedications weren’t alien, impersonal voices coming from the radio; they were from those around me. Couples kissed as their words of love were professed, men asked wives for forgiveness, some remained steely-eyed as their own confessions of unfulfilled love were read out, while others could do nothing but be empathetic to those around them.

I fell into the last two categories: I like to think I remained completely passive as my own words were read out. Yet on hearing a dedication between friends, my poker face failed me completely, to which I then proceeded to cough and pretend as if my glasses were causing an irritation that needed to be seen to immediately. The thing is, I can be a bit of a weepy fool, but when I finally got round to looking at the other members of the audience, through what were now misty glasses, there weren’t any dry eyes to be found.

With such a shamelessly romantic title, the meaning behind the play was never going to be a profound secret. However, there was something surprisingly real about sharing the joy and/or pain of people who had loved, were in love, had lost. This wasn’t art imitating life: for those members of the audience who wrote in, this was life, in all its blissful euphoria and consuming angst. It permitted us to be coddled in the cheesy, loved-up, never-to-admit-in-public kind of way that we all secretly desire. In the constant ennui that is third year at university, the intrusion of this play into my emotions shook me into a promising realisation. Maybe “all you need is love”. Maybe.

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10 Things I’ve Learned About Ring … by talking to its audiences

by Maddy Costa

I don’t often go to post-show discussions at the theatre, but when I do, I wonder what might happen if their focus were shifted, from the theatre-makers as the authoritative source of information, to the audience. Instead of the audience asking how the work was made, the theatre-makers might ask: how did it make you feel? Instead of the audience asking why the work has that title, the theatre-makers could ask: what did you think it was about?

It’s hard for audiences to be honest with theatre-makers about their work: enthusiasm and confusion alike embarrass us. By talking to other audience-members instead, people can learn a great deal about a production, seeing it (and the world around it) through many different eyes.

This is the impulse behind the Dialogue Theatre Club that I run with another critic, Jake Orr, and that I’ve been taking around the country as part of Fuel’s NTiYN project. I didn’t plan to host four separate post-show discussions on the subject of Ring, but I’m so glad I have, because each one has been illuminating. With no one present who was involved in making the piece, audiences were able to discuss their responses openly, without deferring to people “in the know”. What follows are some of my favourite things I’ve discovered about Ring, and the people I “watched” it with:

1: Ring is a great big magic trick, and most people want to know how it works.
Ring takes place in a pitch-dark room; instead of actors performing in the space with you, everything is delivered through headphones. Well, almost everything: Simon Kane plays a man called Michael (not, he says slyly, his real name), who sets the scene and makes sure we’ll all be comfortable in the oppressive blackness before we proceed. The actors’ speech, and their movements, were captured using binaural recording techniques: effectively, microphones are planted in the ears of a dummy head, picking up sound the way human ears would. It creates the extraordinary sensation that recorded sound is genuinely happening all around you: far over to the left, nearer to the right, in a whisper just behind your ear, so close it makes your muscles flinch.

At the first theatre club I discovered that 80% of the people in the room had lifted their headphones at some point, to find out if the sound were really all recorded, or if some of it were happening live. Deep inside I was appalled: whatever happened to the willing suspension of disbelief? But as more and more people told me that they, too, had lifted up their headphones to ascertain what was real, I realised that Ring is like a magic trick: people want to know how it works. And, as with a magic trick, the technical explanation is ever-so-slightly dull.

2: Several tiny illusions cohere to make that big illusion.
When we first meet Michael, he walks with a crutch and accidentally, incongruously, drops a ping-pong ball. He paces up and down, establishing a percussive rhythm: tap, step, tap, step; the ping-pong ball skitters across the floor with a pop-pop-pop. Once we’re marooned in a sea of blackness, these sounds become markers, warning us of Michael’s presence.

For most people, such illusions only fully work if the dimensions, and particularly the flooring, of the room in which the audience are sitting, correspond with their equivalent in the recording. The audiences I spoke to in Battersea Arts Centre in London weren’t alert to this, because they didn’t have to be: the room and the recording correlated. Audiences in Belfast and Margate, however, were alert to every disparity.

In Margate, the issues were largely to do with space: it was evident throughout that the room we were in was smaller, and less echoey, than the fictional room. Plus, it was carpeted: in our presence, Michael’s crutch made a muted thump that bore no resemblance to the sharp clicks in the headphones. Not everyone was troubled by this – but those who were found Ring quite hard to take seriously.

In Belfast, issues of size were exacerbated by the fact that everyone in the recording spoke with an English accent. How could audiences believe these people were in the room with them if they sounded like characters from the Archers? (Please note: EVERYONE I spoke to who commented on this used the same reference point. It was like a word association game: recorded English accents – the Archers!)

All together, it made me realise how difficult it is to tour work, and re-create the conditions under which a show was originally meant to be experienced. And it made Ring’s ability to hypnotise people in Belfast and Margate, despite these drawbacks, all the more impressive.

3: Most people think the central character is male.
Early in the show, when everyone in the room is scraping their chairs to move into a circle (at least, that’s what the recording tells you is happening), Michael unexpectedly whispers, directly in your ear, “Not you, Francis.” Or, indeed: “Not you, Frances.” The intention is that right away you will believe that you have a role to play in this piece: that of a mysterious character who, it gradually emerges, represents the worst of everyone in the room.

I didn’t really believe I was Frances – but I believed absolutely that she was a woman, a woman who made questionable choices and put herself in dangerous situations without any particular regard for other humans or the consequences of her actions. And I was astonished that almost everyone I spoke to – despite the deliberate absence of gendered pronouns, despite the androgynous name, regardless of whether or not they believed they were Francis – unequivocally believed Francis was male. It just goes to show how dominant the masculine is in our society.

4: Ring is extra disturbing if your name is Francis.
I met a lovely man in Belfast, christened Francis, who, from the very first whisper, spent the duration of the show freaking out. How did they know he was there? Was everyone hearing their own name in their headsets, too? How was that possible? That was one protective layer of fiction I was glad to have maintained.

5: It’s participatory in more ways than one.
From the moment you’re called Francis/Frances, you’re invited to participate directly with Ring – at least, within your imagination. For many people, however, this is the moment when another kind of participation begins. “You’ve got the wrong person.” “I’m not Francis!” Night after night, audience members were talking back to the recording – and I had no idea, until I spoke to them afterwards. In Belfast, whole groups of people were so enraptured by the scene in which the characters serenade Francis/Frances with a rendition of the Carpenters’ Close To You that they sang along. Isn’t that lovely?

5: It’s remarkably effective at getting people talking about fear of the dark.

As someone who was afraid of the dark for a good 30 years, sitting through Ring for the first time wasn’t easy. By the end, I thought I was going to vomit. Although rooted to my chair, I felt as though I were floating in space. It was like being trapped in a nightmare – a nightmare from which I couldn’t wake up, not even if I screamed.

This, it turned out, was a fairly extreme reaction – just a few notches down from leaving the show (which some people did, to ruinously disruptive effect). And I became curious: how many people experiencing Ring were once, or still, afraid of the dark? A good half of the people I spoke to, it turned out. Which was oddly reassuring.

I met only one other man, in Margate, who had as strong a physical reaction as me. He was so shaken I felt sorry for him – all the more so because I pounced on him as he walked out of the theatre to invite him to come and talk about it. Some experiences need a bit of digesting before they can be discussed: Ring is one of them.

7: It’s easier to contemplate the physical darkness that surrounds you during Ring, than the mental darkness it pours into you.
One of the most fascinating and thought-provoking conversations I had about Ring was in Belfast with a visually impaired man, his milky-blue irises opaque as china, who assured me he couldn’t talk with much authority about it because he hadn’t had time to think it through, yet dissected it with a philosophical acuity that had me struggling to keep up. My recollections of his torrential monologue are muddled, but one thing that has particularly stuck was his interrogation of what it means to be “in the dark”. For sighted people, that’s a physical experience within Ring: you are sitting in a dark black as oil, and the inability to see heightens the sensitivity of your other senses. This man, however, pointed out that to be “in the dark” can also mean to be in a state of ignorance – and Ring’s audiences are trapped within that state by a script that avoids explaining anything. How much do we need to know about a person to construct a personality for them? How much does anyone reveal the truth about themselves, and how much do they conceal? Ring made this man think about the public and private faces individuals present and hide from the world – and about the blurring that social media has effected between the two. We read a Facebook profile or a Twitter feed and think we know people intimately – but do we really know them? What are they keeping dark?

8: The question, “But is it theatre?” is much better answered face-to-face than online.
Across the four conversations, I encountered just one woman (Russian, as I recall, and not someone who often sees non-traditional work), who wanted to know: what makes this theatre? We’re not watching anything, there’s no one on stage: why isn’t it a radio play? And I was startled by the gentleness of the people – most of whom were studying or involved in theatre in some way – who responded to her. People who ask “but is it theatre?” in comment threads online generally get dismissed as trolls. Here we could patiently explain that being in the same room as lots of people you couldn’t see was integral to Ring’s illusion, to the experience of scrutinising each of our senses, to the mirroring of the situation within the narrative and the world around us, to Ring’s hold on our imagination, to the act of collective imagining that makes theatre great.

9: To some extent, Ring is about what we do when we go to the theatre.
We gather in a dark room to will a world, a story, several lives, into being. Why do we do this? For our own entertainment, sure. But also, to see how other people live, and develop our empathy for others and our understanding of what might influence the choices they make in their lives. And, just maybe, to imagine ways of living better, ourselves and as a society.

I’ve seen a fair bit of theatre over the past year that makes this argument, notably Chris Goode’s The Forest and the Field, and the A Smith/Tim Crouch collaboration what happens to the hope at the end of the evening. This is work that declares from the outset that it wants to think about the kind of society we create when we go to the theatre, and what we might be able to bring from that into the outside world. There is just one moment in Ring when it declares a similar intention: early on, when “Michael” asks, in a strident tone, why the group have gathered in the dark, and quickly answers his own question: to imagine something better.

How many people caught this? It’s mentioned in just one other review I’ve read, and I don’t recall talking about it much in theatre clubs, except with a group of theatre students at BAC. There is a craft, and a craftiness, to this piece that makes it stand up to repeat visits: I went four times in the end, and didn’t feel quite to grips with it until the third sitting.

10: A few Tunnocks tea cakes go a long way.

This has nothing to do with Ring and everything to do with after-show discussions. Usually they happen in the auditorium, with the theatre-makers on stage, right? Maybe the audience have had time to grab a drink, maybe they haven’t. This hardly creates a convivial atmosphere.

All of the discussions I’ve had about Ring have involved food and drink: wine and juice, crisps and bread sticks; at the MAC in Belfast, a tapas spread so generous and delicious it was almost distracting. But the snacks that proved most cheering were the two boxes of Tunnocks tea cakes distributed across the homely bar area of the Tom Thumb theatre in Margate. Talking about theatre doesn’t have to be a dry, intellectual activity, although that’s what it’s often deemed to be. Maybe a few Tunnocks tea cakes are all it takes to remind people that it’s fun, too.

Ring, MAC, Belfast

By Chris Caldwell

As I walk into a black room full of chairs facing each other, I am greeted by a man dressed in black with a crutch, I suddenly realise that I know very little about what is about to happen. I reach into my pocket and pull out the leaflet, I read the quoted text above. It doesn’t make me feel any better. He asks people their names as they enter and as he’s leaving he drops a ping pong ball. We all put our headphones on and they slowly dim the lights, then they dim them some more, and then blackness.It’s suffocating, almost unbearable… they suddenly come back on again. “that is how dark it will be for the next 50 minutes” our guide announces “if it is too much for you leave now” – we all look around, two people leave and we are plunged back into complete darkness.

What happens next is a 360 degree surround sound play in the dark. Characters introduce themselves in an AA style meeting. People tell their wicked stories. People walk around and suddenly I realise that some-one is talking directly to me, about 2 inches from my ear. I’m not quite sure what’s real and what’s not, there’s a loose story being told, and like a good book I have to conjure it in my mind. I’m sure it was all pre-recorded due to the English accents all around me, although at one point some-one touched me ever so lightly on my back, and I was certain I could smell perfume and aftershave, but who knows if it’s real or just my imagination!

Technically speaking the sound is terrific, it sounds real and is completely immersive, you swear there are people all around you talking, getting up and moving around, it is completely 360. The sound effects are spot on too. Any lapse in either of these and you would snap out of the fiction, like a movie with bad special effects.

The group I’m in is for very bad people, and by the way they’re talking I am the worst of the lot, the pace of the proceedings quickens as the 50 minutes race on, culminating in an unspeakable act (if for anything else so as not to spoil it for people who may go at a later date) before I know it, the lights are coming on and I’m wondering just how 50 minutes could go so fast.

I feel as if it’s a play performed entirely for me. A play for Chris. As the lights come on and I look around, not quite sure what I’ve just been a part of, I begin to file out with everyone else, like participants of an all-night slumber party. It turns out that one of the people who left was one of my party. They were allowed to sit outside the room (in the light) and listen to the show. Asking her what it was like with the lights on she answered that she was very glad that she hadn’t stayed as it was scary enough when you could see all around you!

This was a totally unique experience and one which I would be keen to re-experience. The guys from Fuel Theatre seem to be coming back here a few times this year with odd and experimental theatre and you can check out their upcoming shows here.

Waiting… In a queue by Victoria Melody in Collaboration with Dr Alan Latham, heard at ARC, Stockton

By Lisa Thornton

You are immersed in your own little world, listening, waiting.
While You Wait is an experience; a series of podcasts created by numerous artists in association with Fuel, Roundhouse and King’s Cultural Institute. With a mixture of performers, visual artists, writers and musicians elements of site-responsive and one-to-one theatre have been fused together.
Waiting… In a queue by visual artist and performer Victoria Melody in particular feels intimate and personal. Not only with the surreal individual listening station which was situated on the 7th and 8th May in the ARC Stockton Arts Centre. Where the feeling of waiting emerged as the rest of the world rushed by, but with the juxtaposition between fact and anecdote.
The grounded authentic stories and opinions are relatable for the listener, whilst the facts established from research conducted by Melody and Dr Alan Latham make you think about queuing in a completely different perspective. This contrast is especially illustrated through the warmth of Melody’s family holiday story, presenting her initial reasoning for her interest in anthropology and of course the queue. Evidently it was this that resulted in her research of British history and the creation of numerous artworks in an aim to discover why queuing has become a core element to British culture.
Some say it is due to the rationing era whilst others say it is because of the introduction of public transport in Britain, buses only had one door. But are we now in British society losing sight of this tradition? As a prominent aspect to Melody’s podcast she delves into her notion that gadgets and the internet are abolishing the dialogue once created by queuing. Especially in today’s society people are immersed in their own lives, out for themselves, in a rush to strive to where they want to be, they are solo. Until they reach a queue then they become part of a collective. But with music blasting from headphones, the ability to be in touch with friends or the office in seconds on a smart phone for example and just not needing to leave the house to do certain jobs due to the internet it is harder for this strong collective to be formed. How can the mutual catharsis, protection of space and a sense of equality happen without the traditional queue?
The irony is that if you listen to this podcast on a gadget when you happen to be queuing you are conforming to the eradication of the typically British queue.
Nevertheless I agree with what Melody is contemplating. Waiting…In a queue makes you aware of not only potential loss of dialogue but tradition. In a society where it seems to be survival of the fittest we should see that “life isn’t always fair but we know that a queue is.”

Make Better Please, ARC, Stockton

By Chris M Dickson

Make Better Please is the name of a show presented by the Fuel theatre company, featuring the Uninvited Guests company as players and director. It was performed tonight at the ARC arts centre here in Stockton-on-Tees. Full disclosure: a local friend of mine wrote a preview of the show and was comped two tickets; he couldn’t attend, so I went in his place. Tickets would have been £10 (or £8 for concessions) and included a voucher for one free drink. Here are some highly preliminary thoughts after just a couple of hours’ vague reflection. As ever, this is far from being a considered review, but reflects a couple of hours’ worth of thought-dumping; sometimes I use my blog as my outboard brain.

The show is one of those partially interactive performances, inasmuch as they draw upon contributions from the audience who are invited to participate in precisely delineated fashions at certain points. My prejudice is that I am a sucker for This Sort Of Thing, having written at great length about Who Wants To Be…? previously, and taken great interest from afar in the work of Punchdrunk and the developing world of pervasive, playable theatre (Hide and Seek, The Larks, Coney and so on). Accordingly the default assumption is that it might be a bit difficult to explain, though the company’s own attempt at it is a pretty good shot.

We call on the people to gather with us, to read the day’s newspapers together, to speak and to listen.

We will give voice to the concerns of the hour!
We will question the powers that be!
We will make things better! We will make things better!

This is a town hall meeting and a radio broadcast, a public protest and the news of your world. In these times of crisis we make a collective ministry with you, our society of friends. Possessed by the spirits of corporate fat cats, cabinet ministers and media tycoons, we invoke the demons of the day, in order to banish them forever. Frothing at the mouth, we dance it out, rock out and rage on your behalf.

Each show will draw on the day’s news and will be about whatever matters to you; in it we’ll be whoever you want us to be. We’ll speak the unspeakable and do the unthinkable for you.
In practice, what it is might be considered a ritual to generate targets and develop causes for a spectacular, kinetic Two Minutes’ Hate. Arguably there’s not a lot of ritual around in these secular times, but the ritual that still exists, at its finest, most sympathetic level (for instance, a good wedding, where the ritual runs at least from stag/hen night through to honeymoon) can generate Peak Experiences for those involved. It’s fun to read about the Sunday Assembly “atheist church” and there might be analogies to be drawn.

It’s hard to know how much detail to go into what actually happens; I’ll err on the scanty side because it is such a participatory thrill, but if you want to know specifics, there are a couple of really enjoyably written write-ups that are rather heavier on the spoilers.

As all good rituals do, it starts very gently and in an accessible fashion and works its way up to an impassioned climax. The audience all sit back-stage – possibly the first head-trip for the unexpecting – about four circular tables, each holding up to ten members, bedecked with a variety of that day’s local and national newspapers. I’d hazard a guess that there were about two dozen there today, about two-thirds female-presenting, ages maybe twenty to sixty.

Over tea and biscuits, with the guidance of a facilitator from the troupe, we are given ten or so minutes in which we each pick a story that makes us angry, writing the headline down. Each participant presents their own story to the group; each group then decides on one story that particularly resonates among them en masse.

The groups then sit at the four quadrants of a circle, with gaps between the quadrants, and in turn one representative of each group briefly brings the group’s story to the performance at large. At one gap is a detuned / honky-tonk prepared piano; at the gap opposite, a drum kit.

The next step sees the performers, in turn, declare themselves to be certain prominent figures from the news, and we are posed the question “If you could say anything to e.g., Nigel Farage, what would it be?”. It’s an interesting activity in very mild public speaking, but there’s enough intimacy among the group already that the performers effectively generate a safe space. (As it happens, I espoused one of my favourite dangerous extremist political views, and they must be extremist because I only got one Like when I ran them up the flagpole on Facebook. The homophily among this particular audience was such that I got a couple of “what he said”s.) A few atonal clusters from the piano start to set the mood.

The next level sees the facilitators get us starting to think about some of the more horrific stories referenced in the newspapers, and get us to place ourselves in specific roles in those stories. No actual improv is required, just a bit of communal “think about what it must be like” – and by the third of these, pretty much everyone has at least a place in a crowd in a harrowing scenario to consider. This tension is broken by a performer going to one of the gaps in the circle and having a good old 30-second all-out primal scream. This was perhaps five or six feet away from one of my lugholes… er, yeah, thanks for that.

After that, the next level of the conceit is that we are each given the death mask of a recent obituary recipient and invited to whisper, one by one, the names of the deceased into the ear of the otherwise newsprint-hooded Charon banging at the piano with increasing frequency. While this goes on, another performer continues to prepare and desecrate the communal circle by spitting tea within, an act that apparently did succeed in generating its intended disgust among some of the audience.

From here the intensity ratchets up further, as one of the performers attempts to metaphorically morph himself into adopting the mantle of Bad News itself, a combination of all that we have declared we despise and many other good targets besides. Other performers adorn him with newsprint tools of bedevilment, and this is a several-minute sequence in which Bad News is summoned and eventually exorcised, with audience members contributing dousings of ceremonial tea to the ritual.

That description sells it very short. Suffice to say that the audience later referred to it as the “thrash metal concert” section of the piece; lights flash, the drumkit and piano are brought into full effect, all the lighting at hand (and many more lights beside) is cycled at speed, there’s plenty of smoke and running and pushing and chaos… and an exorcism, of sorts. There is no question of suspending disbelief – this is sheer theatricality, perhaps more Dr. Dre than Dr. Dee – but it is a sufficiently sensual experience that it gets over, the audience bought into it.

There is a quieter final section in which we reflect on the good news as well as the bad, and as much as we have shared stories with each other that have made us angry, we share the stories that we have seen which give us hope. The performers leave us outside for the final part of the ritual and to provide us with some closure using the headlines we identified at the start of the show before the performers disperse to the several winds. It’s a simple, neat conclusion and really satisfied me.

Does it work? It attempts the impossible, but it’s a heck of a worthwhile try. The exorcism section attempts to be all things to all people and different people will have radically different tolerances for attempted sensory overload. I can imagine some audiences actually preferring a more violent still performance, and there surely might be the scope for a tremendous piece of stagecraft if the performer somehow were to use stage magic to escape (conceal himself within a prop, perhaps?) and leave a husk of the Bad News body behind, so that Bad News might not just be driven away from the circle but literally, as well as figuratively, crushed.

There could be the temptation to engage as many different senses as possible, and I’m wondering if the ritual section might be more participative still. (I’m thinking of the Grand Finale of the Blue Man Group shows here to demonstrate the state of the art, even twenty years back, for a high level of completely benign sensory mayhem… though they have hundreds, or thousands, times the budget.) There are sensual routes that I’m very glad that the show chose not to go down, and I have a suspicion that a reviewer who set out to be grizzled and cynical might consider parts of it a little, well, undergraduate in its attempts to shock.

The show also racks up points for technical accomplishment through deliberately seeking to surround us with stimuli from all four sides and for so quickly responding to our input. The act of recording us supplying our hopeful stories and playing them back to us a little later is a simple one, but they got it right first time (tick!) and it worked well in context. A spirited and admirable job all round from the performers, both the ones throwing themselves completely into their work within the circle and those mixing the mayhem without it.

While the whole package might not completely, to use what can only be a hand-wave-y verb, work, and it may well not be physically possible for it ever to do so, choosing to consider all the things the show does right, I pretty much loved it. There’s scope in the slightly loose format for all sorts of interesting things to happen.

There was a reasonable degree of consensus among the broadly rather socially liberal audience as to sources of annoyance in the media; on another day, the first group to present its communal source of anger might happen to be annoyed by one story and the second group might happen to have radically dissimilar political leanings, possibly even being angered by the same story but from the opposite perspective. A single performance of the show cannot demonstrate all the tricks required in terms of setting up a list of targets to skewer and include within Bad News, but a radically split audience might be really difficult to deal with. I sort of want to see it happen, once, but I don’t want to feel it.

This review would not be a complete reflection of all the things that affected my feelings about the show, without awarding generous but well-deserved extra credit for a couple of other aspects of the show as distinct from the performance.

After the conclusion of the ritual, probably about three-quarters of the audience gathered in the bar at tables marked (IIRC) “Theatre Dialogue Club”* and good-naturedly talked about what did and didn’t work for them. It was fascinating, it demonstrated the backgrounds of many of the audience members (plenty had something of a professional interest, to a greater or lesser extent!) and I would be delighted if it were to happen after every performance ever. It also gave me an impression that the audience I was in were also a benevolent, supportive audience to have shared the experience with. Very good company.

Huge bonus points also for the programme. One sheet of newsprint, possibly Berliner (i.e. Guardian) size, but the inside has detailed instructions for holding your own Make Better meeting yourself, fully in keeping with the participative nature of the performance. They look like they’ve been written by people who know a lot about the practice of active listening, too. The back page also has a huge list of influences, far too many of which I do not recognise but which I am tempted to explore. That’s got to be worth considering for best practice.

The show is not for the photosensitive (no strobing on this occasion, but nevertheless I fear it must trigger the Shiny Alert) or those likely to respond to deliberately strong stimuli for other senses. (I think I would have liked to see some warning at the start of the presentation, too.) Likewise, the unusually empathetic or easily distressed may not enjoy the call to proactive consideration of those in distress and anger, and I think some sense of irreverence towards religion is also necessary. The show was billed as suitable for 12+; in general, I tend to believe age ranges tend to be usually fairly conservatively set, but I suspect I would have been too shrinking a violet for this until somewhat into my teens.

I cannot understand the business model, or the business model of any show with a good half-dozen staff and which can only cater for possibly 40 audience members at a time. Sure, it’s far from the most extreme case – I love reading about shows for audiences of one – but it’s remarkable that it has come around the country. At one level, artists care about art first and business model second, but people gotta eat. (And people like me who only go because they’ve been comped a ticket don’t help at all, I’m sure.)

Comparisons are invidious; if this is the sort of thing that you think you might like, I think it’s well worth a try in practice. I can’t say whether it’ll work for you or not, but it’s a really interesting shot at the very least. Perhaps I might have to only award it a figurative 4½ loaves and 1¾ fish because I can’t see it having rocked my world quite as much as some other shows, but it was easily good enough for me to be very well-disposed towards giving Fuel and Uninvited Guests a go the next time they want to try something interesting and damn the consequences.

* Dialogue Theatre Club is another project I (Maddy) do, for more information visit:
http://www.welcometodialogue.com/