In recent years, the popularity of immersive theatre has continued to rise around the world. In New York City, Punchdrunk Theatre’s Sleep No More (my own experience of which I discussed some time ago here) has remained a hot destination for those seeking an out-of-the-ordinary night out since it opened in 2011 (at the time this review was published, Sleep No More was selling through to February 2018).
In 2015, as part of The Rocks Village Bizarre, Blancmange and 7-On gave us We Are The Ghosts of The Future, an experience inspired by a photography exhibition at Sydney’s Justice and Police Museum. And more recently, Hidden Sydney offered participants an immersive cabaret that took them back to Kings Cross in the 50s, 60s and 70s and allowed them to interact with the colourful characters of the day.
As part of Sydney Fringe 2017, Mongrel Mouth, a theatre company creating their own immersive theatrical pieces that give audiences the chance to impact the outcome of a story, has unleashed its latest offering, Undertaking. Played out across several rooms of the Sydney Fringe HPG Festival Hub in Alexandria, Undertaking is a psychological thriller that puts those who attend in the middle of unfolding events, and it’s up to them whether to remain bystanders or actively participate to affect the fate of its characters. Directed, co-written and produced by Duncan Maurice with Sharon Zeeman, Undertaking stars Benjamin Wang, Jasper Garner Gore, Moreblessing Maturure, Rizcel Gagawanan and Sharon Zeeman.
It’s difficult to say too much without giving away aspects of Undertaking that should remain secret as not to impact the experience of anyone yet to attend. From the time of entering the dark space, the air is tense. The direction in which you head and which spaces you explore are entirely up to you. Eventually, you encounter players in the piece and the conversations they have with one another (as well as their interaction with attendees) begin to provide a sense of the story: people are going missing, it’s happened over an extended period of time, and there’s a belief that the person responsible may be in the building. The true stakes of the situation are brought sharply into focus when attendees encounter one particular character who appears likely to become the guilty party’s next victim. How will that guilty party be discovered? And if unmasked, what should become of them? Additionally, what can those who attend do themselves, in order to try and change the fate of the next earmarked target?
Undertaking is the kind of theatrical experience that will hopefully become more common in Australia. It’s refreshing to be able to follow characters involved in an exchange that piques your interest, and to move around freely to try to piece together other strands of the story by handling and examining 3D objects that may contain clues. It’s also fascinating to watch how others respond to what occurs; who in the group steps forward to play an active role in the action and how they try to move things forward. Much of the time, it’s difficult to discern actors from attendees, and that’s all part of the fun.
If a unique, provocative and immersive theatre experience is something that appeals, be sure to head down to Alexandria before the end of the month. Theatre companies like Mongrel Mouth should be commended for their endeavours to bring innovative, immersive theatre to a wider audience, and it will be fascinating to watch as their work continues to develop in this space.
UNDERTAKING – SEASON DETAILS
Dates and times: Playing now until 30 September, Wed-Sat 7.30pm
Venue: Sydney Fringe HPG Festival Hub, 225 Euston Rd, Alexandria
Tickets $30/25 concession
Duration: 1½ Hr
Bookings: www.sydneyfringe.com or www.mongrelmouth.com
Suitable Ages 18+ (contains nudity, extreme violence, graphic imagery, low level/strobe lighting)