With companies like Shunt, Carnesky’s Ghost Train, You Me Bum Bum Train and Punchdrunk leading the scene there have been some pretty awesome feats of immersive/ interactive theatre pulled off over the last 15 years, but it’s a tricky thing to get right, and often it fails to engage, let alone transport. Alice Holland reviews the collaboration between Punchdrunk and Hijinx shown as part of the Unity Festival in Cardiff.
Sensibly-shod, I entered the secret FO[U]ND Corporation building in Cardiff willing the combination of Punchdrunk’s deservedly excellent reputation and Hijinx’s expertise in working with actors with learning difficulties to bring out something to sock me right in the jaded eyeball.
Given that their last collaboration bagged them Wales Theatre Awards’ Best Production in English, and the show promised themes of corporate skullduggery, memory and secrets, my hopes were high.
Once masked and inside the building we were greeted by a hammy ‘sinister woman’ and directed into the guts of the building to explore detailed installations, repetitious performances and as much Jean-Pierre Jeunet/Terry Gilliam aesthetic as you can stuff in your face holes.
Speaking of face holes, asthmatics beware: the hazers are on high and the building is a dusty bugger. Wheelchair access looks possible throughout but there was some loose flooring around Lost At Sea that could be tacked down. Access information was very good before and at the show though, and the production team were very attentive.
There is some nice interplay between the actors in the Lost departments, particularly the spies and the corporation officials, and the costuming is stylish. In exploring, I tried to tail the likeable post-master figure but appropriately he lost me pretty quickly, and I found myself at a rack of luggage tags asking for me to write down a memory.
The best bits were the genuinely creepy washing lines and witnessing a resurrection at sea, and one could have a good time playing hide-and-seek in the set with a mate. The actors mainly, but not consistently, pretend you’re not there so as long as you’re not deliberately disruptive (it’s got to be unnerving enough playing to a masked audience) I encourage you to make your own fun. If you get lucky you’ll be siphoned off for a one-to-one performance; the one I witnessed was clever and stylish.
Above ground, a plot reveals itself in printed materials, ironic artefacts and a confrontation scene which was well delivered but in which some of the disabled actors were presented as props rather than characters.
Whilst I’m splitting hairs, I’m also not totally down with how acquired disability was used as a metaphor in a narrative about “who we used to be” either.
The meta-nerd in me really liked how the themes of augmented reality being sold to a jaded population were being explored through trendy immersive theatre, and I had a nice little flirt on the way out of the building with one of the characters, following a patchy-but-sweet finale.
Overall I had an enjoyable if, at times, pedestrian experience. The attention to detail in design and process was well-developed but the resultant message and characters were unclear, so perhaps go and view it as installation rather than performance.
If you’re in Cardiff and you’ve never seen a Punchdrunk or Hijinx show, or indeed attended a promenade show before, then go. For £10/6 it’s a fine price to take a punt on something new.
Beneath The Streets: Lost & Found will be on until July 3rd as part of the Hijinx Unity Festival, Cardiff at a secret location revealed after booking.
Hijinx Unity Festival runs from 1-5 July with performances showcasing some of the best inclusive and disability arts from around the world.
For tickets visit www.hijinxunity.org.uk