A little over two years ago I was rehearsing for our 2 man Christmas Carol in The Fleeting Arms pub in York. There was a company building a show there at the same time as us. We became friends even though it was cold and space was limited. Their show was joyful and ambitious even if they were building it into a freezing cold pub on Gillygate in December.
Tom, Jack, myself and maybe two other people went to the first open dress rehearsal. It was beautiful back then when they honestly didn’t know what they had or how it was all going to play. And with so few of us we really got to play.
This evening I went to the open dress of the second London run, in a custom built space. Two years later there are 100 people there. It has only deepened, as the company have bedded in and made sense of their arcs and their way with the audience, and where they can be free. It’s a show that rewards audience for engagement. It’s an “immersive” show – and it really is, they’re not just using the word because it’s a buzzword. You’ll have to be mobile and capable of stairs to enjoy it fully. It does not want audiences that like to sit and dissolve. It prefers audiences with agency. If you’re active and play the game you’ll get a deeper experience, see parts of the set that others don’t see, and maybe even get some free shots of gin (no mixers – I wasn’t drinking at the start so I just kept hold of it.) Although it’s still full of set pieces that require a settled audience to land properly. Too excited and you can break the moments, and they only come once.
I started by introducing my friend to Jordan Baker. My friend is American and Jordan is a golfer. My friend was suspicious of Jordan. I mean there are plenty of other American golfers, even if Mar-A-Lago was actually being built in the 1920’s, so Jordan might have played there. And Jordan’s not a dangerous narcissist.
While the main story was moving forward, Gatsby took some of us aside and persuaded us to do some betting for him on a fixed baseball game in exchange for some Copperhead gin and promises. Later on I sought out his contact, who made sure of me, and gave me more gin. I wasn’t drinking but I was glad of the gesture. It seems I will commit to organised crime for free future gin. Clutching it I ended up in a beautiful and thought provoking conversation with Myrtle, who wanted help with romance and life. “If you had to choose between love or money, what would you pick?” I told her I’d already picked love, years ago. She said “There’s a story in that.” Tell me about it.
Then I had Tom Buchanan joshing me about my suit, resonating with the fact that the last few times I’ve run into the actor that plays him I’ve been wearing it. He asks me to find out about Gatsby. I’m tempted to go do so and come back to him to report my findings, but by this time I’ve decided Buchanan is an asshole and I’m already on Gatsby’s side. I love a show where the audience has choices like this. It’s a complete world in there, and everyone is contributing to make it complete. Phil “superman” Granger was there as George, no longer magically fixing boilers with his pokey fingers but instead changing the room utterly towards the end. Superman in more ways than one. Also I got to see a new Daisy Buchanan, while standing next to the old one. She was as on it as if she first did it years ago. And, like the book, it was all held together by a beautifully romantic Nick Carraway, starting and ending it with poetic narrative.
It’s mostly sold out but they keep adding extra dates, and it’s just wonderful to see so many people I care about being so authoritative with a piece of potentially chaotic immersive theatre. It’s very different from your formal theatre, and all the better for it.
As an actor I love to mix my palate. I’m finding myself craving a bit of the formal right now. I auditioned for a lovely bang on bit of casting in some formal work today, and I’d love to convert that into a joyous summer job in an unfamiliar city. Everybody send positive vibes, as then I can get back shortly to writing about being in a foreign country, which has always been my forté in so much as until I committed to this year, travel blogs were the only regular blogs I ever kept.
Meantime, book for Gatsby if you like fun. And if you can get a ticket. My housemate Brian produced it, back in that pub in Yorkshire. He helped guide it all the way to where it is today. I cannot even begin to express how much he rocks for that. We build community. We move forward, we look backward… “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”