Louise Ware explores parts of the Playhouse punters don’t normally get to see …
I love exploring places you don´t normally get access into. I was once lucky enough to get into the bar at the Houses of Parliament, enjoyed a peek backstage at the O2 and most recently attended the Culture Vultures tour of Temple Works. When I read that The Claim was an atmospheric encounter with hidden spaces at West Yorkshire Playhouse I was intrigued.
Director Hannah Bruce & Company create events that respond to specific places, immersing audiences in unique performance journeys. This journey starts at the box office, where you are given headphones and an ipod. The ipod has an illuminated clock on it which countdowns the time remaining until the beginning of the show.
At zero, a voice in the headset starts talks through one ear, then both ears, then the other ear, then from what seemed like outside the headset with this sound effect creating a wall inside your mind. You are asked to turn to face the window, and notice that other audience members are too. Will we be doing the same things throughout the show I wondered. Or was each voice unique?
The journey begins by asking us to walk past a barrier & with a No Entry sign. I´m not a rule breaker, so I had to trust the voice in my ear, with its well-timed additional encouragement. I followed the instructions and hoped the voice would point me in the right direction. I experienced mixed feelings of excitement and unease as I walked through a clearly marker “No Entry” zone.
I walked through the first door and along a dark corridor until I was told to stop when I saw the set for “Of Mice and Men”. It is softly illuminated and was enchanting to see lit up with its wafting Corn fields & water features.
From my view at the top of the theatre I looked around the empty space. Slowly dancers appeared in the seats where they must have been lying down. Three dancers flowed through the seats, captivating the disparate audience, all with our unique views. When they finished and the music in my headphones stopped, the voice returns to encourage me to explore the theatre and notice things that I may not have noticed before. There is a name on each seat and from my position on the stage, I look back at all the seats with all their names and wonder who are all these people. The bright lights dazzle me.
The journey continues backstage, led by the voice. Sometime the group is together, sometimes we separate. I am told when to stop and encourages where to look. Dancers appear above me, water splashes on puddles on the set, and I feel in a bit of a hypnotic trance.
I started to expect more and more from each of the doorways I go through, and from each dark corridor I walk along. We reached one bright red door with multiple danger signs on it. “Keep Out” it states. “Push through it” the voice told me. “Follow the path through to a small blue door” it says as I walked through the noisy engine rooms of the theatre, through this small blue door and into what looks like an excavation site. It’s dimly lit inside. The group is quietly reunited here. We all stood still, peering into each corner and curve of the room. A movement starts at the back of the sandy floor, and a new performance starts, delivered by a dancer who is totally engaged with the space.
The whole group returns to a room full of recycling, pipes and screws. The tempo and tone of the voice changes. We, as a group, ended the performance by finding a way to exit to the outside.
The Claim is exciting and different. It’s a brilliant way to seeing the other side of this theatre space, experience great performances along the way, and be tested in your ability to let go, trust your instinct and allow someone to direct you.