Liam Rudden: Humanity of reality theatre

SITE-specific, immersive, interactive, forum – some of the descriptions given to theatre that allows audiences to play their part in proceedings, rather than sitting passively, waiting for a cue to applaud.

They call it ‘breaking the fourth wall’ in the business, when the actor speaks directly to the audience, bringing them into the heart of the action.

It’s a style worth championing, and why I’m looking forward to being part of Deadinburgh at Summerhall with good reason.

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Two years ago, I produced Silence In Court at the Fringe. An interactive court case, it centred on an accusation of rape. The audience became the public gallery, with 12 seconded onto the jury. After hearing the testimonies, they discussed what they’d heard before being given a unique opportunity to cross-examine accused and accuser.

They then arrived at a verdict, which dictated the ending.

It was an interesting experiment. Time and again I was amazed by the information people shared during the debates. Real-life experiences, including rapes, became part of the ‘reality’ of the fiction. It was exceptionally moving.

Equally, prejudice frequently became the sole justification for a juror’s potentially life-changing decision – one guilty vote was based solely on the fact that the accused was identified as the son of a vicar.

Originally, that was a throwaway line, nothing more than an in-joke, acknowledging the vocation of the father of the actor playing the role.

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“Repressed, all minister’s children are sexually repressed, so of course he is guilty,” insisted a man old enough to know better.

With all this in mind, it will be interesting to see what decisions the audience at Deadinburgh make tomorrow.

Theatre naturally reflects humanity, but never more so than when the audience is allowed its own input.

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