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
AI Love You
Opening Night – 14th June 2017
“magnificent, complex and beautifully addictive”
Artificial Intelligence is a concept we have grown up with. The idea that one-day robots may become so advanced that they may be able to become living beings just like us. Every so often in films, you have the odd release about AI robots, my favourite being the 2001 A.I. Artificial Intelligence, but in the theatre this as a topic area is less touched upon. AI Love You by Heart to Heart Theatre Company and directed by Joe Ball was a remarkable production that kept me gripped, torn and immersed until the very end.
The story is about an average young couple Adam and April who lead an ordinary life, except April is an artificially intelligent robot, created to be Adam’s perfect girlfriend. One day, April finds she has a bug in her system, a bug that cannot be fixed causing her body to begin to shut down. Thus, April decides she would like to appeal for her right for euthanasia. It is with this premise that the play begins.
Melanie Ball as the writer of the piece has to be praised for her poetic writing. Each character was multi-dimensional, living and existing through the outstanding writing. The structure of this piece was simple but extremely effective, where we as the audience have to make decisions throughout the piece that impacts the way the theatre piece unfolds; leading to us having the ultimate decision at the end and this, in turn, impacts the ending of the piece. And, it worked perfectly.
However, based on the responses of the audience in the show I attended and the arguments used by the characters themselves, it made me wonder how differently this piece would have been received if the AI was instead male. With a history of objectification, lack of rights and oppression, I feel as though most audiences will automatically side with the AI for she is female. Most of us when we hear women – robotic or not – being described as objects or belonging to a man we automatically side with her, but would the same be done for a male AI? This for me was the only thing I would challenge this piece to consider.
On another note though, Peter Dewhurst as Adam and Eve Ponsonby as April are true stars in this show. Both actors gave a tremendous performance. The chemistry emitted by both these young actors was addictive to watch. I was torn by the love Adam felt for April, for at times the way he demonstrated this love left me wondering about his true intentions. Peter’s performance was so nuanced that as the ‘human’, I was really left critically questioning him in hindsight of the decision I would need to make.
On the same note, Eve Ponsonby as the AI: April was so captivating from beginning to end. Every time she looked directly into my eyes, I felt continuously immersed in her story and the piece. Eve’s physicality, voice and presence throughout this piece really made us believe she was robotic with a human exterior. It was a nuanced performance; complete with a sense of truthfulness in every word she uttered either us or Adam.
AI Love You is magnificent, complex and beautifully addictive. It’s a story that stays with you even after the play ends because the fate of these characters is in your hands. The question is are you willing to find out what the consequences are?
Reviewed by Daniel Correia
AI Love You
is running until Saturday 24th June