Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Fever review: Compassionate interactive theatre, recognising cries for help

In 600 HIGHWAYMEN's fascinating production, the audience play guests and neighbours at a house party. Photo: Waleed Shah

Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival 
Dates: Oct 9-14

★ ★ ★ ★

For both audiences and performers, theatre has always been a two-way street. Even a production less interactive than The Fever, 600 HIGHWAYMEN’s admirable work, will find its audiences sitting, watching and thinking. Whether on our feet or not, art is still a mirror. 

The more tattered immersive theatre of recent times has lost sight of that engagement, as if overstepping the boundaries of performance has become a lone person’s privilege, not a revelatory angle at which to see a reflection of all of us. That begs the question: why get involved?

Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone’s interactive play, created with the company, begins by making small requests of us. From our seats in the round, we’re invited to create passing guests and neighbours at a house party, bringing ice and folding tables. But the celebration comes to a mysterious end, leaving host Marianne in an overwhelming gloom and loneliness. Here is a dejected individual surrounded by all of us.

As the fascinating production flows, Browde and Silverstone’s succinct and gentle cues to participate will evolve from explicit gestures to subtle glances, until audience members volunteer on their own. “Will someone come and help me up?” asks a man collapsed on the ground, oddly detached in Tommer Peterson’s performance. That becomes a more straightforward invocation compared to his sad plea when he falls again: “Will you please leave me alone?”

Under Eric Southern’s striking lighting, and against Emil Abramya and Brandon Wolcott’s dreamlike music, this seems a place where change is possible. A young man, played by the nicely-judged Nile Harris, finds a companion to run free. Most significantly, a woman, in Caroline Kittredge Faustine’s resolute performance, becomes a voice for those regarded with suspicion: “I can’t do this alone”.

Having joined the players, some of the material we’re given isn’t very clear. There’s some strange circle dances, and long flowing gestures that mean who knows what. But it’s still compassionate interactive theatre, one that trains its audience to recognise cries for help. Even a poetic evocation of our childhood, eloquently delivered by Silverstone, reminds us that we were once unbound by polite society to intervene for others.

It’s easy to understand why New York’s 600 HIGHWAYMEN made this show, at a time when the U.S. seems a nation divided. That’s likely why The Fever ends with a sense that this was just the rehearsal. Now, for the real thing. 

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