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Theatre review: Audience 
13th-Dec-2011 09:48 pm
Amphithavatar
One Man, Two Guvnors seems a strange point of comparison for this interactive show from Belgian company Ontroerend Goed but something that marred that hit farce for me is also present here: Fake "spontaneous" audience interaction. Here it's the entire point of the show, as the title suggests this is going to be about the Audience. After a funny little speech from one of the cast lecturing us on how we're supposed to behave in a theatre (I know this was a joke but I kinda wished every other show started like this, it might save some hassle) a cameraman pans over the audience and alights on people whose inner thoughts the actors (also seated in the crowd) narrate. The real point of the show starts when one of the actors stands up and begins to pick on a woman in the front row, making increasingly offensive comments and sexual demands. A point is presumably being made about us letting it happen but the trouble is how painfully obvious it is that she's a plant (as Richard and I were saying afterwards: A real audience member would have at least started by trying to laugh it off, even if she found it uncomfortable; instead she looks on the verge of tears the second the camera turns on her.)

This problem infects the whole show: The four main actors identify themselves early on, but return to their seats and attempt to influence audience reaction as if part of them. We know it's not real, so even any impulse to play along for the fun of it is dampened by the sight of a company trying to have their cake and eat it. Although good within their assigned roles, the performers also feel unprepared for unexpected reactions, which you'd think would be a main concern in a show that invites them. (When narrating the audience's "thoughts" at the start, even something as simple as the chosen audience member picking his nose to get a laugh proved too much for them to integrate into their prepared script. A woman did comment about the treatment of the plant in the front row, and the actors later had to pretend she hadn't.) I'll make concessions for the cast being Belgian (though their English is excellent and their accents not strong at all) but you shouldn't court audience interaction if you can't handle it.

The publicity has a lot of positive buzz from the Edinburgh Festival (which must be a much tamer event than when I was last there if this stuff's shocking them) with rapturous reviews¹ and claims of the stage being invaded by irate audience members. You should always take publicity with a pinch of salt but here what's disappointing isn't that they fail to be as daring as they claim, but that they don't even seem to try. The idea of examining group reactions and suggestibility is worth exploring but Ontroerend Goed don't make much effort to do so for real. There's a few fun moments at least - I liked an actor reaching for a rosary when Khia's "My Neck, My Back" is played. And there's a cute actor in the company who takes his shirt off and briefly bares his arse, thus continuing Richard's extraordinarily high record of accompanying me to shows that feature some degree of male nudity.

Audience by Ontroerend Goed is booking until the 7th of January at Soho Theatre.

¹even before seeing the show I was amused by the Lyn Gardner quote they chose for their posters: "A must-see. You can’t have an opinion until you’ve experienced it." Which, if you think about it, is true of anything.
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