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Published on Thursday, 11 August 2011

4 stars

C venues - C soco (venue website)
3-21 Aug, 11:00am-11:40am, 12:00pm-12:40pm, 1:00pm-1:40pm
Reviewed by Sarah Hill

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived... well, that’s for you to find out. Who knows, you might even end up telling the story yourself. Buy a ticket, don a white arm-band, and it won’t be long before you’re thoroughly embroiled in a mysterious ‘circumstance’ – but not unwittingly so: at every junction there are personal choices to make, dilemmas to resolve and, of course, consequences to face.

And so the 101 adventure begins, but only if you’re willing to abandon a few inhibitions and actively participate in the drama as it unravels around you. You needn’t be alarmed – the arm-bands are there to take off if at any point you feel too uncomfortable to join in, but part of the joy of this intense experience is to embrace the moment and test the boundaries of your comfort zone. At least, so was the case for me one wet Edinburgh morning, as I found myself protagonist to a dark and unsettling fairytale – just one of a revolving programme of three to choose from this year.

There are plenty of good things here. 101 adopts a well-considered structure, initially rehearsing its audience in certain protocols, before throwing them into the thick of things. This offers reassurance to anyone feeling especially apprehensive, and allows time to adjust to whatever dramatic environment you’re faced with.

It’s all a little repetitive for those itching to get stuck in, but this device is cleverer than it makes out. For what appears to be a warm-up exercise is, in fact, an unnerving exploration of manipulation and trust – as is the entire experience, in fact. Follow an instruction without question, and later you might find yourself berated for passively obeying. The question looms loud and clear: who are your friends and who are your enemies? It may not be subtle, but it’s a fascinating insight into decision making; and whilst you’re left burning to know all possible outcomes, the beauty of it is that there are no right or wrong answers.

However, this type of immersive experience remains heavily reliant upon a strong ensemble cast to sustain its energy and believability, and here the piece had its ups and downs. Admittedly, it’s tremendously hard to create a genuinely fearful situation in theatre, and for its efforts 101 did well. Led by convincing performances from its two female leads, it was able, initially, to establish a genuine sense of trepidation – there were some spine-tingling moments and I surprised myself in becoming effortlessly swept up in the frenzy of fearful anticipation. Yet despite the rushes of adrenaline, it’s a shame to say that at times I wasn’t so convinced. Occasionally the tension lagged as sections were drawn out, and some of the performers seemed to lack conviction – in my case the audience decided to play it safe, but I wasn’t convinced that the cast would have fully maintained control had someone thrown a curve ball into the mix.

That said, this is commendably bold work and something of a rarity. Unlike the usual feeble attempts at ‘interactive theatre’ to be found every year at the Fringe, 101 is the real deal, and for that alone it is a must-see. It even had the courage at one point to leave its audience completely to their own devices. All in all, this is thrilling, thought-provoking stuff, brimming with potential… and with three different experiences to choose from, it’s highly tempting to return for another voyage (or two) into the unknown.

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