It was the talk of the Edinburgh Festival, dividing opinions and prompting shocked people to walk out mid-show. Now in London, Charlotte Marshall attended the press night of Audience to find out exactly what all the fuss was about.
Firstly, it’s worthwhile noting that nobody walked out of the performance I attended, but it’s not hard to imagine how they could have. Audience is at times an excruciatingly uncomfortable experience. Flipping the conventional boundaries of theatre, the focus is turned to us, the audience, and from start to finish, theatre company Ontroerend Goed blurs the boundaries between what you think you see and what is actually happening to toe-curling effect.
For the majority of the performance a cameraman films the audience, with our faces projected sometimes overwhelmingly large on the screen on stage. The actors – disconcertingly dotted around the audience, meaning you never quite know whether your neighbour is in on the game – use the intimate set up to push both your opinions and thoughts, but also the boundaries of what is acceptable in theatre.
Is it, for example, acceptable to invade our personal privacy? Is it okay to berate a young woman for being a waste of space to make a point? Is it okay to monitor the audience as we come in and reduce us to a number of statistics – fat, thin, couples, singles, even the colour of our skin?
As the performance unfolds and Audience becomes more challenging and more chaotic, it becomes clear this is a lesson in conformity. How far does a theatre show have to go before the audience stands up and says it has gone too far? And if we don’t make a stand, are we complicit in the humiliation we witness?
Audience provokes more thoughts and feelings in an hour than most plays I’ve seen this year could do in three. But as the audience clapped, some in stunned silence, others with wide grins, I still couldn’t decide whether it would have been more fun to join in and give in to the comfort of conformity, or if I’d made a valid point by refusing to join the crowd.