A psychological thriller where you solve the crime
It's not often you find yourself at a theatre production that's described as "disorienting", with "may contain extreme violence" and "graphic imagery" thrown into the mix, too.
But UNDERTAKING, created by immersive theatre producers MONGREL MOUTH, is, according to all promotional material, a "psychological immersive thriller", where the story unfolds as the audience sees fit, and the final scene unravels the way you want it to. It's a "choose your own adventure" scenario, only this time, it's on a very visceral level.
UNDERTAKING, staged as part of this year's annual Sydney Fringe Festival, features actors Moreblessing Maturure Rizcel Gagawanan, Benjamin Wang, Jasper Garner Gore and Sharon Zeeman, and is directed and co-written Duncan Maurice. Co-producer is Sharon Zeeman,
MONGREL MOUTH are passionate about producing socio-political theatre that creates catalysts for social change and connection, and UNDERTAKING, where the audience is asked to be as much a part of the action as well as be a spectator of it, is both thought-provoking and entertaining.
Upon arrival to the venue (at the HPG Festival Hub in Alexandria), we're escorted up to the staging area. We're each given a set of instructions to follow for the duration of the time we spend there. Some of the instructions included pretty basic instructions for any theatre performance, like, "taking photos and videos is not permitted". However, we're also explicitly told, "There are many opportunities for the audience to interact with the characters and affect the story".
So began our ride into immersive theatre. Intriguing from the very beginning (we're asked to put on gloves so as not to disturb any of the props), UNDERTAKING was like a journey into a murder house. The guests (we could hardly be called audience members, so engaged in the action as we were) were able to move from room to room, inspecting elements of the props, whispering to each other, and coming into contact with the actors.
There was definitely a novelty factor to the experience – and it is quite an experience. The premise is that there have been disappearances and vicious crimes, and people are there to follow clues, trust their instincts and listen to the people involved. It's presented to us all throughout the staging area. In one room, you're gathering evidence, but from another room, you hear arguing. Do you stay and continue with your activity, or follow the next "scene"?
Casting must have come with quite a brief. Imagine telling prospective cast members to not only act your role, but be present with the audience at all times, as the scenes never really end, but just roll on into another area of the venue? For that alone, it's worth noting that the cast were readily available to talk to the audience, deftly able to answer questions and encourage debate.
But a good theatre experience stays with the audience long after the end, and UNDERTAKING was no exception. In fact, how your session ends will affect what you take away from it. Some may feel a sense of accomplishment, others guilt, others fear, others still may have taken offence to some elements of it. Some elements are confronting, whilst others are exciting. But your experience of the events taking place may be entirely different to those of your fellow audience members, and it's also this aspect that makes the theatre-goer the other member of the cast.
The success of an immersive theatre experience is also reliant on the audience you have with you. If the audience are ready to "go along for the ride", so to speak, then the storyline will ebb and flow and head towards a positive ending. If the audience is unwilling to play along, then the experience dies with it. As an audience member, it's important to put as much into it as you want to get out of it.
UNDERTAKING is enjoyable, enticing and fascinating, and is definitely one to catch at this year's Sydney Fringe Festival.