As I stand in the lobby waiting to go in and see Caryl Churchill’s new short play Ding Dong The Wicked, the woman standing next to me turns to her partner and exclaims loudly (a bit like a toddler) “I’m boredddd!” Granted they have made us wait almost twenty minutes to see a play that is only twenty minutes long but, as the steward has already explained the previously play over ran and they’re changing the set. She continues to loudly complain stating “How outrageous this is, to make us wait like this.” Her partner politely informs her that she could just talk to him to which she rolls her eyes and tuts. Everyone is watching her. Then she saunters up to the steward and asks how much longer it’s going to take. He says that they’re doing everything they can to be as quick as possible and he’s sorry for the delay. After clearly humiliating herself almost to the brink she decides to make a noisy exit with an elaborate ‘psssst’ and a show of big hand gestures as she tries and get her embarrassed and reluctant other half to follow her away from the watching crowd and outside for some much needed ‘fresh air’. It’s as if it all happens right on cue, because as soon as she’s made her exit the doors open and they let everyone into the auditorium. And as the steward takes my ticket I wonder whether that was part of the show?
We all do it… watch others. Public transport is ideal especially the London Underground. I remember sitting opposite a young couple on a 5 hour train journey and watching them go from loved up, to arguing, to ignoring one another and back again (fascinating!) and yet we’re all very easy to judge and build a narrative around what we observe – It’s what we’re meant to do when we go and see a play. Perhaps this is what theatre, film, television and (in particular) reality TV has taught us – to watch but not intervene. It causes us to be disconnected. Causes a break down in communication but it also makes us much more observant to those around us who we do not know. Our bodies are a tool and by being there I learnt the character of that woman – how impatient she can be and how she wasn’t embarrassed to make a scene – I think I may have even learnt more about her than I did any of the characters in Churchill’s play because she reacted to me and everyone else watching her. She was there and not on a stage.
Immersive theatre has taken steps to bridge the gap between the stage and the audience, but what if a play started and you didn’t even realise that what was happening around you was theatrical until you were already completely absorbed…?