Despite the promise of the theatre company’s name to be ‘not too tame’, this party/immersive theatre experience felt exactly that: tame.
The audience are invited into the pop-up venue of an Edinburgh club. Faces are marked with UV paint. Music is turned up loud. Andrew Butler stands onstage murmuring for an impressively long time about social injustices and other things not quite audible as we go and grab a drink from the (overpriced) bar.
And that’s about as far as the immersive stuff goes. We wander to the tables and seats dotted around edges of the dancefloor. We’re not led anywhere, or instructed in any way by the actors who are scattered around the space. What follows is basically a theatrical performance in-the-round, with a few lazy jabs towards the immersive. At a couple of moments in the play the cheesy tunes are turned up really loud, and a cast member will shout something like ‘let’s party!’ But the only people dancing are the cast. Maybe one or two audience members, but they quickly give up after the company dive into a fully choreographed routine. Were we supposed to dance? No idea. The company certainly gives no indication, and don’t seem too perturbed when we don’t. But later on they play this really tacky instructional dance video and fling a T-shirt to whichever audience member has the least glazed-over eyes. So, really, there’s no way of knowing how this was supposed to go down.
The script is a barrage of alienating, poetical soliloquies in which the characters discuss some aspect of their lives. The trouble is that there are lots of characters to get through, and for a couple of them this one speech is all they have, which makes them feel a little redundant to whatever plot we’re left with by the end.
We aren’t encouraged to dance, or really interact with either each other or the characters in the piece, so I really struggle to understand how Electric Eden can be considered an immersive experience, let alone a ‘party.’ The content of the play is a mismatch of ideas about how we should all look after each other and stand up for what we believe in, and that kind of thing – but somehow it doesn’t really say anything at all. The individual performances are languid; the spoken-word style really dragging the whole piece down. And most baffling of all, the play begins at 5pm, when a later slot might have at least given it a bit of atmosphere.
I think it’s important to understand that using words like ‘immersive’ on press releases or funding applications is not quite enough. Immersive is challenging, it requires dedication, and a lot of the time it won’t work. Unfortunately, Electric Eden falls into this last bracket.