'The Time Out' review or 'Where's the deep end, please?'

'The Time Out', Non Zero One
The Barbican, Thursday 25th October

The smell of chlorine lingers in the air. A skinny little chap in swimming trunks is shooed away by his impatient coach. The coach then turns his glare on us. He's a little bit frightening and we do what he says. We put on our swimming hats and perch, nervously, on wooden benches.

The coach blasts out his motivational speech and it quickly becomes clear we're a team, preparing for a water polo match. It's a little bit tough to swallow. After all, we're dressed in our day clothes. We're wearing shoes. It's going to take an almighty suspension of disbelief to lose ourself in the reality of Non Zero One's interactive show, 'The Time Out'.

But the coach's screaming is just about bludgeoning enough to batter us into believing this scenario. However, just as that pep talk begins to wriggle its way into our system, the headphones in our swimming caps come to life. A soothing voice whispers in our ears and reminds us of the value of team work. As the show progresses, we're encouraged to make real contact with the people around us. This begins with eye contact and gradually progresses, until we are all but clinging on to each other in the shadows.

But that connection between the audience is not convincing or lasting. It's awkward and brittle. That's largely down to the disparity between the internal and external pep talks. The two elements work against each other. Whilst the segments with the coach function on a realistic plan, the scenes involving the lady in our head are much more abstract. In fact, they feel completely removed from the reality this show is trying to create.

This layering of an abstract narrative over a realistic setting makes it very difficult for the audience to properly settle. This is unfortunate, since a settled audience is absolutely crucial in any interactive show. Of course, this doesn't mean you can't surprise your audience. Good interactive theatre – good theatre – always surprises. But even surprises need to work within a consistent framework. Neither the bright lights and brash shouts of the changing room – or the quiets coos of the life coach in our head – create a new and convincing world for us to explore. The result is a polite but all too self-aware audience, when what this show really wanted was an audience submerged in an alternative reality, ready and willing to jump in at the deep end.


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