Interview: "It's a bit like being in an episode of The Thick of It... set in 1979" - Owen Kingston on his new immersive show.

Parabolic Theatre’s immersive theatre show Crisis? What Crisis? cracks open the government machine and gives the audience the chance to get hands-on with the levers of power.

Owen Kingston
Director Owen Kingston

I spoke to director Owen Kingston about the show, what immersive theatre adds to the audience experience, how the company prepare for the unexpected and advice for those who are shy about getting involved?

Crisis? What Crisis? Is an immersive experience - how does it work?

All the events of the show take place in a Government office building in 1979.

The country has just been through the “winter of discontent” where strikes brought the country to its knees, and now Jim Callaghan's government is facing a vote of no confidence.  

In our shows, the audience is firmly in the driving seat narrative-wise.

We don't go as far as giving our audience specific roles, but we do give them a reason to be present in the world of the show.

In “Crisis? What Crisis?” our audience members are special advisors to government ministers, and they have been gathered together to try and solve some of the big problems facing the country while all the MPs are in parliament debating in advance on the no-confidence vote. 

The audience as a whole has to actively engage with these problems and try and solve them.

This can involve negotiating with Union representatives over the phone or in person, persuading MPs to try and vote in a particular manner, or choosing financial policies to enact to try and stabilise the economy.

The whole thing feels like a cross between a theatre performance and a board game, where the decisions taken by the audience affect the direction of the story.

Tackling problems affecting one part of the country might worsen problems in another part, and it is down to the audience to prioritise what to fix and how, and to try and work out what will have the biggest influence on the no-confidence vote, which is the ultimate metric of success or failure.

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Review: Vassa, Almeida Theatre - looking for the laughs in this blackest of black comedies

Vassa is a pitch-black comedy... so pitch black that you struggle to see where the laughs are.

Vassa programme almeida

The set for Vassa, designed by Fly Davis, is a wood-panelled room, windowless but with five doors.

When a door is open, characters often loiter outside. When they are closed there seems to be a constant stream of exits and entrances - and more than one huffed slam.

In a farce, they would be used for comic effect and someone, no doubt, would end up with one slammed in their face.

But Vassa, adapted from Maxim Gorky's original by Mike Bartlett, is a pitch-black comedy rather than a farce, so pitch black that you struggle to see where the laughs are.

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Review: The Man In The White Suit, Wyndhams Theatre - Does this Ealing comedy adaptation revive the laughs

Foley has injected the odd contemporary quip about proroguing parliament, Brexit and capitalism which landed well with the audience.

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Stephen-Mangan in The Man in the White Suit. Photo: Nobby Clark

The woman sat behind me at Wyndham's Theatre for The Man In The White Suit, last night, had a very distinctive laugh. It was the sort of laugh that is infectious, it made me chuckle more than once.

She was obviously enjoying Sean Foley's adaptation of the 1950s Ealing comedy which stars Stephen Mangan as clever but hapless scientist Sidney and Kara Tointon as Daphne, a posh, mill owner's daughter.

The physical comedy and slapstick, in particular, made her guffaw as did the way Daphne walked with an exaggerated, seductive swagger.

Loud chuckles

Sidney's 'farting' lab equipment, explosive experiments and the way food and drink seemed to gravitate towards crotches were also afforded loud chuckles.

The story centres around his invention of an indestructible, dirt-proof cloth. Unable to absorb coloured dye, Sidney has the cloth made into a white suit to demonstrate its unique qualities.

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Review: 'Master Harold'... and the Boys, National Theatre - lessons and losses

It is a play about lessons and devastating loss, about how you can't dance around injustice and its impact.

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Athol Fugard's semi-autobiographical play is set in a tea room in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1950.

It is a wet afternoon - rain patters on a skylight - and Willie (Hammed Animashaun) and Sam (Lucian Msamati) are making the most of the quiet to practice their ballroom dancing steps ahead of an important competition in two weeks.

Hally (Anson Boon) the owner's son arrives to hang out and do his homework as is his routine.

Spectre of apartheid

There is an obvious friendship between the three, with familiar banter and games but the spectre of apartheid lurks in the background.

As they reminisce about Hally's early childhood we learn how Sam has become an influential figure for Hally who has a difficult relationship with his actual father - an amputee with a drink problem.

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Review: A Day In The Death of Joe Egg, Trafalgar Studios - old attitudes and familiar struggles

Peter Nichol's 1967 comedy A Day In The Death of Joe Egg demonstrate both how far we've come in our treatment of and attitudes towards disability but equally how the moral dilemmas and struggles remain.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg - (L2R) Lucy Eaton  Claire Skinner  Storme Toolis  Patricia Hodge  Toby Stephens  Clarence Smith. Photographer Credit - Marc Brenner
A Day in the Death of Joe Egg - (L-R) Lucy Eaton, Claire Skinner, Storme Toolis, Patricia Hodge, Toby Stephens and Clarence Smith. Photographer - Marc Brenner

Fifteen-year-old Joe (Storme Toolis) has cerebral palsy, is wheelchair-bound and can't communicate. 

To cope, her parents Bri (Toby Stephens) and Sheila (Claire Skinner) use humour, creating a persona for Joe but it is putting a strain on their marriage.

Bri and Sheila (and later other characters) break the fourth wall telling the audience their thoughts on each other and their life, revealing not only the history of their relationship and raising Joe but also their inner struggles.

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Review: Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. Royal Court - the highs and lows of Caryl Churchill's sketch plays

Caryl Churchill's new work is a series of four plays linked thematically by their examination of human narrative and understanding of violence through storytelling and myths.

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Rebekah Murrell in Glass (Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp) Royal Court. Photo Johan Persson.

The plays which get increasingly longer as the evening progressing start with Glass, a metaphorical story of a glass girl and her teenage friends one of whom she forms a close relationship. 

It is a tale of abusive relationships in some shape or form - whether it is the overprotective, overbearing parents or the boy who is abused by his father.

There is an amusing interlude where they are all ornaments on a shelf but ultimately it is the piece that is most difficult to pin down.

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An 'oooh' London theatre announcement (Clue: It involves Richard Armitage and Toby Jones)

This is something good to look forward to in the dark days of January and February next year, Stan-fav Richard Armitage and Toby Jones are taking to the stage.

Uncle vanya toby jones richard armitage © Muse Creative Communications  photography by Seamus Ryan
Uncle Vanya with Toby Jones and Richard Armitage © Muse Creative Communications. Photo by Seamus Ryan

They will appear in a new adaptation of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya by Conor McPherson, directed by Ian Rickson. Jones is taking the titular role while Armitage will play Astrov.

It's not a Chekhov play I've seen many productions of - one in fact back in 2012 starring Ken Stott and Samuel West which I very much enjoyed.

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Review: Hedda Tesman, Minerva Theatre, Chichester - does an older, contemporary Hedda work?

There is always a danger when you transport classic plays to a contemporary setting that the difference in society's attitude destroys the tension of the original.

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Ibsen's original Hedda Gabler is a young woman, newly married who sees no future, trapped into a life in which she sees little purpose.

Cordelia Lynn's modern take - entitled Hedda Tesman - follows the basic plot of Ibsen's but Hedda is now an older woman with a grown-up daughter living in contemporary England.

Hadyn Gwynne plays Hedda as a woman bitter and twisted by resentment and regret at the promising career she gave up to have a child.

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Review: Black Chiffon, Park Theatre - emotional disturbances and a family dilemma

Lesley Storm's 1949 play is part family drama, part exploration of mental health but to a contemporary audience, the notion of what was then labelled an 'emotional disturbance' is no doubt quite different.

Black Chiffon at the Park Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet 650A2426
Abigail Cruttenden in Black Chiffon,  Park Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet

It makes me wonder how audiences then and now perceive central character Alicia Christie (Abigail Cruttenden).

She is the height of middle-class respectability and an attentive mother and wife. Her two children are grown up but still hold a lot of affection for their 'darling' mother.

Daughter Thea (Eva Feiler) is heavily pregnant with her first child and her son Roy (Jack Studden) is excited about his imminent marriage to Louise, (Jemima Watling) something even his tense relationship with his father Robert (Ian Kelly) isn't going to mar.

But this happy picnic is about to be unsettled by a wasp.

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Booking for James McAvoy's Cyrano de Bergerac - and a warning

Priority booking opened today for James McAvoy's next stage outing and the first of Jamie Lloyd's new season - Cyrano de Bergerac.

Good news is that there are thousands of tickets for first-time theatre visitors, key workers and under 30s.

Bad news if you don't fall into either of those categories, the ticket prices are particularly steep.

I ended up booking restricted view in the upper circle for £32 because anything closer was just too pricey.

The Playhouse has a reputation among regular theatre-goers for bad sightlines which doesn't make the 'cheaper' seats much better value but it is better than nothing and I'm hoping there might be some rush tickets or day seats so I can get a better seat.

Oh and this notice popped up before you buy the tickets, so you have been warned...ahem.

Cyrano de bergerac warning

Cyrano de Bergerac opens for previews at the end of November, for more details on dates and booking head to the ATG website.