relive the belle epoque

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‘The bustle dresses are very, very unusual. They’re built on frameworks that accentuate women’s bums, basically.

“We have corsets, there are a lot of corsets downstairs. We’ve found that a lot of women have been asking for corsets, they’ve been very interested to know what this restriction might be like.”

Stewart Laing is describing some of the more outlandish costumes that will adorn prospective attendees of his latest creation, The Salon Project, an immersive theatre experience at the Traverse Theatre that will aim to transport an audience into a fully recreated 19th century Parisian salon.

The concept of immersive theatre, where the barrier between stage and audience disintegrates and the audience becomes an integral part of the show, is one that informs the basis of the piece, and one that Laing is enthusiastic about.

“It really is a trend, it’s the real zeitgeist actually. Audiences want to participate in fuller ways in theatre experiences. It’s an alternative. Theatre doesn’t stand still and people want different experiences.

“That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy sitting in a seat in the dark just watching something. I still do enjoy that, but I think that audiences want variety.”

Laing says that the production took inspiration from a piece of music composed by Marcel Proust and Reynaldo Hahn, though as the project developed he abandoned the idea of foregrounding the music in favour of something more relevant to a contemporary audience.

“It seemed that the music and text was so specific to that time and place that showing it in the Parisian salon setting was the only way to understand it, and that’s the idea I had about two years ago. It’s really grown from that and we’ve actually completely abandoned the text and music from Proust and Hahn.”

Laing adds, “We kept the idea that we would dress the audience, the idea that the audience would be dressed in period clothes, and that we would put them in a 360 degree environment in a set that would give them a sense of what these Parisian salons might have been like.”

Laing says that he wants to put conversation and the discussion of contemporary ideas at the heart of the show. Might this be a comment on how, by setting a discussion on contemporary ideas in an old-fashioned setting, technology has deteriorated our ability to sit down and talk to each other without the distraction of iPhones and Blackberries?

Laing is hesitant to endorse this suggestion, saying he doesn’t wish to be seen to be giving a lecture on the subject.

“I use my mobile phone a lot. I love modern technology, but I think there’s a real pleasure in conversation, in face-to-face conversation, and I just want to give value to that.

“It’s nice to go to the theatre and hear real people talk about real things, rather than people pretending to have ideas. There are no actors involved in this project.”

The Salon Project, Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, Monday-October 22, 7pm, £25, 0131-228 1404