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Published on Tuesday, 25 May 2010

I’m excited.  I’m ridiculously excited.  I’m as excited as I was when I first discovered Belt Up, and that makes me very excited indeed.  Oneohone Theatre’s self-titled 101 is imperfect, quixotic and more than a little risky; but it’s the kind of risk young theatre-makers should take, and it was nothing less than a privilege to walk the high-wire with them.

Yet by billing their show as “interactive theatre”, Oneohone have seriously undersold what they’re doing here.  When you enter one of 101’s short “scenarios”, you don’t just interact with the actors; you become one.  You may recognize what part you’re playing, or you may not – it took me an embarrassingly long time to identify the far-from-obscure scenario I was first thrust into – but either way, you’ll find yourself steered through a simple story-line by the kindly insistent performers who, soon, you come to acknowledge as your fellow cast.

The scenarios are skilfully built and there’s rarely any doubt about what you’re supposed to do, but the magic starts when you realize that you don’t have to comply.  I was tentative at first, worried that my contrariness would “break” the piece, but my confidence grew as each act of rebellion met a more-than-practised response.  By the end I’d radically changed the original plot-line, only to see another audience member wrest it back again – a creative dialogue which felt unforced, liberating and true.

But I wanted to try something different, so – at the company’s kind invitation – I rejoined a new audience for a second show.  This time I resolved to accept whatever role I was handed, and found myself transformed with alarming ease into a hulking, thuggish zealot.  I swaggered around the space, sparring with the cast as I chanted songs of war – and I won’t lie to you, dear reader, I had a fantastic time.  But at the end of it all I was a little bit ashamed of the character I’d created, and confirmed in quiet pride that my initial instinct had been to rebel.

My first spin through 101 was intriguing and diverting; it’s the second which taught me something about the workings of my own mind.  But there’s a problem here, because it’s ultimately the theatre-maker’s responsibility to shape an experience which is satisfying and complete.  If two encounters are needed to make the most of the work, then two encounters should be the norm; and if that means the tickets cost twice as much, well, that’s fine by me.

There are other, smaller criticisms.  I admit I have an unusually poor memory for faces, but with all the actors dressed in modern casual clothes, I was often confused about who was playing which role.  It must be said, too, that I’m temperamentally right up for this kind of show, and I have the experience needed to recognize that the boundaries were there to be pushed.  I kept an eye on the rest of the audience and I don’t think anyone was truly left behind – but I wonder what proportion had a realistic chance of living the journey as I did.

If the planet were full of clones of me, we’d go round and round 101’s scenarios in an almost Bacchic frenzy, testing every possibility before – exhausted – we showered it with a galaxy of stars and all the awards in our gift to offer.  But that’s not the way the world works; and so my excitement must be tempered by a word of advice.  Oneohone deserve kudos for daring to do what they’ve done, together with admiration for the clever tricks they’ve employed to build an actor’s workshop up into a show.  But they mustn’t stop here; this is just too good to languish as a secret delight for interactive-theatre nerds, and only by proving itself for a wider audience can 101 earn its deserved recognition as a seminally progressive addition to the Fringe.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.