Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
A thematically and physically charged immersive theatre show
Unfortunately Not Quite Yet Decided by Lloyd Jones (presented by O.T.H.A.N Theatre Company at La Mama Courthouse) is an unconventional, exploratory, immersive theatre work which begins in mystery and ends in bewilderment. The brochure describes the show as "a non-theatre theatre non-event" and the web listing makes it clear that the show isn't a traditional narrative-style piece with pre-set speech and movements, but rather a work guided by themes and ideas, aimed at emotional impact. These descriptions of the show are quite accurate and do their job in setting audience expectations for I'm-not-quite-sure-what, which is exactly what the show delivers. It is a perplexing yet fascinating experience.
The show begins in the foyer before the audience enters the theatre. We are given an introductory speech, a slightly confusing speech about the history of laneways and historical restrictions on being able to poop. The speech is delivered in a low voice, often dropping to whispers, so while we don't catch every word, the snippets we do catch begin to lay a foundation of suspense and feelings of not quite being in control of this experience. The audience is then led into the theatre one by one, not through the main entrance but through an obscure back way, possibly drawing a link to the laneways we have just been hearing about. Once in the theatre, we're invited to take a seat anywhere along the four walls of the big, open, empty space that is the stage. Our guide from the foyer now takes the stage, and continues to speak to us in a low voice, continuing to tell us stories that we catch snippets of, stories about convicts and prisons, among other things. In here, though, the lighting is low, and a powerful background score amplifies the mystery and emotional uncertainty of the moment. At this point in the show, I started to feel a distinct sense of disorientation and distrust. This was oddly coupled with a sense of being controlled, being led into an almost hypnotic trance of sorts, heightened by the low lighting and haunting aural effects.
The show progresses in an outwardly chaotic yet intentional way, as the action shifts from the walls around the stage towards the centre. The sole actor on stage is joined by the ensemble, who make their entries one by one, bringing with them strong characterization, impactful props and confronting messages on social and political themes, ranging from freedom for Julian Assange to the problem of domestic violence. The audience is drawn into the midst of the action both by physical rearrangement of their seats and by increased engagement with the ensemble. Different members of the ensemble interact with different members of the audience, and the order of these interactions differs so that each audience member undoubtedly takes away a unique experience.
For myself, the interactive experience began with a masked actor whispering directly to me, asking if I would help free Assange, asking whether I'd be willing to make room in my house, asking whether I was afraid. And yes, I did feel a little bit afraid. The next actor to interact with me brought me a gift, a clump of semi-dried grass, which I accepted, my apprehensions easing a little, only to watch that actor walk away and assertively dust their hands, leaving me wondering what it was that I actually held. Another actor came up to see, and I looked to him hoping for an explanation - "it's like a handful of pubic hair" he remarked, as he also walked away. A while later, another actor approached, broke off a bit of the dried grass I was holding and began to eat it. Just when I started to feel at ease again, she shot me an expression of sharp, unexpected hostility, and also left. By the time the pleasant lady with the tea trolley had made her way around the room and offered me a cuppa, I wasn't game to say yes to anything anymore.
Once I withdrew a little from active engagement mode into a passive spectator mode, I felt like I had a better view of the bigger picture of the themes and ideas that were being explored around the room. There was a lot in the show that reflected the most chaotic elements of our contemporary world: statistics about violence and crime, posters with socially and politically relevant text, conflicting messages about whether or not this was personal. None of what was explored on stage went into any sort of factual depth, however; that seemed to be up to the individual audience member to either already have a background in, or to be willing to go home and look things up later. There was a deep sense of isolation in the very charged, very physical chaos - it was as if the map of the space was marked by the powerful characterizations of the ensemble, and it was up to each audience member to find and experience their own place within this world, in their own ways.
There were several false endings in the show before the final, real one. Even as I left the theatre, I didn't feel emotionally resolved, and it felt like the show hadn't really ended, even though the performance of it definitely had. Days later, that unresolved feeling lingers, although what that means is unfortunately not quite yet decided.