Reviewed – 31st January 2019
“an exceptionally presented intimate but high-stakes story”
It’s hard to deny that immersive theatre is making powerful waves in the industry, delivering a type of audience experience that gives them agency and a personal investment within the narrative. Exit Production’s Fight Night reinforces the notion that interactivity is the future of theatre in an exceptionally presented intimate but high-stakes story.
The audience are placed as the supporters of either Joe Williams (Peter Grimwood) or Ian Bradshaw (Edward Linard), two boxers about to trade blows in a pivotal match. The story follows the pre-match confrontations, the locker room anxieties, scheming and strategising, and of course the match itself – all of which the audience are integral in. They were assigned different roles, such as cornermen, doctors, and judges, and the extent to which they follow and participate in the narratives unfolding around them will alter the outcome of the match. It’s unclear how much audience input actually affected events, but – crucially – it felt in the moment as though huge consequences depended on your actions.
That said, if you aren’t keen on participation, it’s simple enough to let other people volunteer for the more interactive roles and watch the story play out around you – but I’d struggle to recommend that. I was placed in Joe’s team, and was treated to an engrossing underdog story revolving around his aspirations to push his career forward in spite of his working class background and a previous defeat. Stakes are driven higher by his girlfriend Kate (Hannah Samuels), culminating in a huge and difficult choice having to be made by the group before the fight.
The whole cast deliver masterful performances that are excellently naturalistic for the setting, especially Grimwood and Samuels who carry the energy of some very tense scenes exceptionally well considering that the shyness of audience members can sometimes drag down the pace in this style of theatre. The naturalism was occasionally taken a little too far and a few lines were inaudible at times, but never to the extent that the narrative was lost.
Dev J. Danzig’s set design also carries a huge amount of detail that transforms the venue into a living breathing boxing ring. Posters adorn the walls and video projection shows interviews and a live feed during the fight, while the locker and medical rooms are brimming with items like photos and newspaper articles that flesh out the world and characters to immense effect.
The genius of Fight Night lies in that you don’t really need to know anything about boxing to love it. Directors Joe Ball and Chris Neels have seamlessly woven together a whole tapestry of narratives that will have you fully invested through the challenging and personal choices you’ll have to make – even if you’re not a fan of the sport, by the time the fight rolls around you’ll instinctively find yourself hurling cheers and screams into the ring.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by Mark Senior
Part of VAULT Festival 2019
Incident at Vichy
King’s Head Theatre
Opening Night – 9th June 2017
“An intensely moving drama with powerful cast performances”
Arthur Miller was an American playwright known for writing amongst others, The Crucible, Death of a Salesman and A View from the Bridge as well for being married to Marilyn Monroe. A lesser known work written in 1964 entitled Incident at Vichy is now playing at the Kings Head Theatre following a successful run at The Finborough earlier this year.
From 1940 to 1942, whilst Germany occupied northern France, Vichy France represented the unoccupied “Free Zone” that governed the southern part of the country. Vichy agreed to reduce its military forces and give gold, food, and supplies to Germany. French police were ordered to round up Jews and other “undesirables” such as communists, gypsies and political refugees.
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PHOTOGRAPHY BY SCOTT RYLANDER
This play looks at how a group of men react having been pulled off the streets for interrogation purposes during the early days of the alliance between the Vichy government and the Nazis. They sit squashed together on a white narrow bench in a white otherwise unremarkable room.
The characters are generally given basic names such as Gypsy, Boy, Old Jew, Waiter but represent a cross section of people affected by the changes in the country in which they live and now feel vulnerable.
All struggle to understand why they are there even though they quickly realise other than the Gypsy and an Austrian Prince, the other detainees are Jewish who fled to Vichy from the northern half of France. None are keen to enter any kind of conversation. However an artist chatters nervously in panic of what possibly lies ahead. This slowly forces others to engage with or to avoid him. His worries over the validity of his identity papers cause others to reveal the uncertainty of their own fate.
The atmosphere becomes increasingly bleak as rumours begin to be exchanged including that people are being transported to camps with furnaces in particular to burn Jews. It is hard for some to believe such an abhorrent act to be possible.
The collective hope that this identity check is just a routine one becomes harder to accept when an elderly, bearded Jew comes in. He speaks no words yet his obvious terror is clear to see. What isn’t apparently obvious is what he is clutching. It transpires to be a feather pillow which features strongly in Jewish folklore – each feather represents a rumour or secret that once left a mouth you do not know where it ends up and you can never get it back.
The tension mounts as the men share information, fears and ways to convince their interrogator or indeed to escape the room. The group gets smaller as few return from being interrogated. It is revealed that a decision about their fate is based whether they have been circumcised.
The whole play makes for uncomfortable watching for even if the viewer doesn’t have much knowledge of Vichy history they will understand the implications of marginalisation and The Holocaust.
Each actor, whether they have much or nothing to say, portrays their part with powerful credibility. It forces the audience to consider how awful it would have been to be in that time and place.
It is exceptionally well written and today resonates with events we are currently experiencing. Donald Trump recently said he was open to the idea for Muslims in the US to register on a database. How different then from Jews having to register in Nazi Germany?
Phil Willmott’s direction drives the tension and Theo Holloway’s sound brings an added menace to the work in particular with the slamming of the interrogation room door.
The only disappointment of the evening was that the theatre was oppressively hot and it did slightly distract from an otherwise excellent night out.