Be an observer or active participant but this is new theatre
What is immersive theatre? With instructions other than be at the 166-year-old mansion in The Rocks at 8pm, I was about to find out. Greeted by the stage manager who wasn't giving much away as to what "Age of Entitlement" is about. Parting words of expect continuous action with 20 actors over different levels and to think of it as 'choose your own adventure', we were to piece together the story. A crowd of people huddle around the entrance and awnings awaiting the venue to open and I'm anxiously wondering what to expect.
Merchant House, 166 year old Mansion at The Rocks
Immediately greeted by a congo line of protesters, its loud and we either have the option to enter the first room, or continue along the hallway or head up the stairs. Myself like the rest of the audience disperse into all corners of the venue and have a quick peek along the way. My eye catches a lone character at the end of the hallway looking out the window, so I wander over to see what she's looking at.
Standing in silence, this is when the audience can become an observer or active participant and my partner asks what she was doing, next came an explosive tirade of what's become of free education before my partner is requested to head into the bathroom with the character X.
Left on my own all of a rather sudden, I'm slightly bewildered as to what to do next. Feeling rather intimidated from the exchange, I make my way up the stairs, past a waiter throwing confetti butterflies above my head. Moving from room to room, speaking to the characters you attain clues as to the main character, Lara and tune into scenes for as long as your interest holds. There's interactivity with performers striking up conversations with the audience. There is a script by Saman Shad with scenes partially improvised due to the audience interaction with the characters.
We head next door and see the grown version of Lara and her ladies in waiting. In another room, we discover a passionate young Lara, played by Amelia Tranter who is captivating to watch with passionate ideals to change the world whilst struggling through her decisions.
Shouting perks my interest from the disgruntled protesters. This is where character X played by Julia Landrey comes into her own, imposing and the background music blends perfectly into the uneasy atmosphere. Running back up the stairs, the story slowly comes together in my mind and a grown up Lara is running around trying to keep the peace but I'll stop here as I don't want to give anything away.
On this occasion, an active participant jumps in, getting physical with a character ripping a prop out of their hands, breaking up the scene which the actors take into their stride. It makes me wonder how many alternative endings have already been played out. How interesting from an audience and actor's perspective to have a nightly performance that is evolving, continuous changing and engaging.
I was blown out of the water with this production by Mongrel Mouth. Especially with the clever costumes of corsets with doc martens and the complex set and props designed by Jo Parkin and Shane Robertson. Due to the vagueness at the start you draw your attention to detail, from items above your head and at your feet to decipher what is going on. Similarly with the costumes and hair, acknowledging a disjoint in time with the themes and dialogue, the hair has huge significance cleverly designed by Alex Peter Jackson.
Age of Entitlement set
This is the second production by Mongrel Mouth in conjunction with the Rocks' Village Bizarre Festival 2014 and the Rocks' Pop-Up Project whose initiative is to activate and re-imagine vacant spaces throughout Sydney operating in the vacant buildings. I'm impressed with Mongrel Mouth's philosophy to establish a new way to experience theatre shifting from the traditional to an unpredictable dynamic and making use of an age old historical venue of Mechant House. This is how I want to see theatre fresh, contemporary and keeping you on your toes.
You really really have to see this show. Seriously, you really do. If only to experience immersive theatre and grasp a perspective on events and allow yourself not to fully understand everything. My partner still cannot stop talking the whole experience from last night. I think character X left her mark on him.
Tips: Don't expect much from reading the program as the emphasis is to experience theatre. Move around the venue as there's so much going on everywhere. Take in the details and dialogue and story will come together in the end.
The Age Of Entitlement, Merchants House, 43-45 George St, The Rocks; Wednesday-Saturday, previews December 3 and 4, season December 5-20, previews $25, season $30, mongrelmouth.com