OUR RATING: Skip It!
[Warning: Contains Spoilers]
The hunt for the great white whale. Immersive Theatre-makers Living Structures specialise in visual, physical and musical performances within large-scale immersive structures, this time attempting to take audiences on an artistic adventure through the high seas.
This time, Storefront City London invited our Visual Arts editor Éimear Doherty (check her bio below) along for the ride:
Éimear: My first exposure to Moby Dick was the 1956 film starring Gregory Peck. I remember feeling perplexed and uneasy after the black and white classic…then again, I was only 7 years old, so I forgave myself for not quite picking up on the complexity of the tale and film. Last night, however, I felt a little bit of a failure. No matter how hard I tried, I was unable to completely immerse myself in the experience, too distracted by a litany of questions:
‘Am I supposed to understand what they are saying?’
‘Why are they pushing me?’
‘What am I supposed to do with this shot of salted water?’
‘What did she say?’
‘Is this theatre or performance art?
I enjoyed the musical element of the performance; the chanting and exercise-ball-percussion brought a dimension to the experience that I think many could enjoy.
But Living Structures is known for their ‘immersive performance events’, correct? The audience was ‘immersed’ in parts, but if I am being honest, on too many occasions, I felt coerced. At 9pm, after a balmy day in London, I had experienced my fair share of pushing and shoving for the day. Either this was a play exclusively for Living Structures’ followers, who understood how to ‘perform’ as an attendee, or it aimed to immerse the audience in a space above and beyond their comfort zone.
As someone who enjoys trying new things, I cannot help but shed a positive light on the experience. It certainly did challenge and provoke many a thought. But surely nothing should be that difficult to follow and enjoy. This time, Skip it.
Alicia: Despite being a regular immersive-theatre goer, I had a strikingly similar experience of the performance as did our guest reviewer. Walking into the performance space sent chills down my spine (despite feeling clammy and uncomfortable wearing a version of an oil-skin jacket) as a naked Ishmael swam his way on a downward slope, struggling for survival, struggling to tell his heart-wrenching story. And it was powerful, beautiful, sonically excellent. But then he opened his mouth and the entire show turned for the worse.
There are seeds of beauty – flutters of potential. The use of monochrome colours, geometric shapes and Russian Constructivism are mostly all stunning, the choreography sometimes masterful. And the music? In an entire different league, at least in terms of composition – spectacularly haunting. But these moments are few and far between. The show as a whole feels extremely unpolished and the relationship with the audience completely unclear. It needs tightening here, expanding there, focus everywhere. Not just gimmicks of “Why not make the audience stand up and then push them to the side so they don’t know where you want them?” or “Let’s just put another sheet on top of their heads to play with space and height.” Many theatre makers adopt these types of tools, but never has it been so painfully obvious and obviously misused.
I commend Living Structures for the graphic and sonal beauty of rare poetically beautiful moments. But the piece overall is just confusing, rushed, and poorly tied together. Words are eaten by the very devices that are meant to project them, water cools and drizzles on the audience when it should spark and ignite their imagination, giant whales are flacid and lifeless when they should be terrifyingly dangerous, the ship sails calm seas when it should be tossed, turned and whipped around by perilous storms and a deadly beast, and large props are dragged here and there leaving one to question – what was it all for?
Final Thoughts: While admirably composed and a good effort made, Leviathan simply doesn’t live up to the grandeur required of it. However, we hope to see what the future brings for this inspired company.
P.S. Éimear Doherty Bio:
Éimear is in the final stages of her MA in Arts Policy and Management at Birkbeck University, a project she juggles alongside a number of other projects and passions. Since moving permanently to London in the autumn of 2013, she has endeavoured to attend as much theatre as her time and pocket permits; striving to catch up after years of being immersed in the world of visual arts and art history. When not in the library or kitchen, Éimear can be found on her bike or eyeing up the city’s latest art exhibitions.