If all the world’s a stage, that clearly includes my kitchen and living room. And so it was earlier this month, when my flat became an immersive theatre venue for a night as I hosted a preview of Any One Thing’s latest production Souvenir.
Agreeing to host an immersive show when not connected to the company is a daring step. The spaces are not – for obvious reasons – designed for it. The host is not a professional. The address may be anywhere and so guarantees of ticket sales for any given postcode may be complicated. But people came. Strangers came into my home – some actors, some who had bought tickets.
The experience of opening up my home in this way was daunting but also thrilling. I have been writing about the immersive scene for a while, and had been impressed with a previous Any One Thing show. So when the call came to host its next one through the mailing list I figured: “What the hell?”
I was keen to see how this would work up close. I was also keen to see how it would affect me and my ability to settle into the action.
In terms of the production and imposition, it was very easy. A producer came to do an initial viewing to see if my flat was suitable. They arrived about two hours before showtime on the day, and moved some of my furniture and any obvious personal identifiers to make the show work in the space and set up a tech and changing room.
About an hour before the start, I was taken to the pub – I guess this was so the actors could rehearse key scenes without spoiling them for me. When I walked back through the door, it was as a guest, and I didn’t let on until the end of the production.
At first, the effect was slightly unnerving. At the start of the drama, the audience is attending a surprise 30th birthday party, milling around waiting for the guest of honour. It was during this time I felt least engaged, because I was self-conscious of not letting on that it was my flat. Talking to the other seven audience members, I was often asked if I had come a long way, to which the only response was: “Not really.”
While they had put away any personal photos to ensure that it didn’t look like my flat, they still left out my posters and my knick-knacks. The audience was respectful of the space, but also obviously curious. Watching them look around was a bit like that excruciating part of Come Dine With Me – thankfully no one was rummaging around in my drawers.
As the drama kicked in and became more about the actors and their unfolding storyline, this uneasy feeling went away, until I found myself welling up while standing next to my hob, watching three people I believed in completely as their hearts broke. This was no longer my place – it belonged to them and their story.
I’ve seen immersive theatre in venues large and small and it’s not really the size of the space that matters but the way the show makes you feel in it. Sure there was no trooping from room to room, experiencing different worlds. But there was a new world brought to life in my living room, which was thrilling in its own way. After the show, my main feedback was about the difficulty of the initial part of the experience and how it might work slightly better for the host.
It takes a certain type of person even to contemplate opening up their home to be a theatre venue. If, like me, you are a bit of an extrovert over-sharer (some might say show-off) I can highly recommend it. They even left the place far more spotless than it had been before.
Immersive theatre is all about being part of the drama, getting closer to the action and blending the edges between audience and show. This was a fascinating way for me to do that – and to support a smaller company in this ever-evolving art form.