There is a point in Torch where you wonder if you’ve made a terrible mistake. The experience is at times so realist that you find yourself wondering whether you’re still actually taking part in an immersive play in St Helens or have actually just got into a stranger’s car.
In collaboration with over 30 women in the Merseyside town and using its streets as a backdrop, director Louise Lowe of ANU Productions has created an expansive, yet heart-crushingly intimate, tapestry of interwoven lives in which each audience member – a maximum of four per performance – shares moments with St Helens women from 1944, 1984 and today.
It is difficult to make such one-on-one interactions feel truthful, but the company has perfected this, both in a scene in which Jade (Sarah Morris) paints your nails in a bedroom confessional, and in less naturalistic moments – like when a giggling Etta Fusi grabs your hand as she runs down (a now wartime) terraced street.
Nandi Bhebhe’s expressive, harrowing choreography is transporting too – taking you somewhere frightening but also very human.
The six strong cast each take a slightly different approach and this contributes to Torch’s otherworldly, slightly spooky feel. Set designer Maree Kearns and costume designer Niamh Lunny have created a world that feels so close to our own but ever-so-slightly off. A council house subtly changes decades every time you re-enter the living room and Sinead Diskin’s sound design is constantly unsettling.
The whole thing feels a bit like being in an episode of Inside Number 9, only one that sensitively deals with trauma and women’s stories over time. This combination turns Torch into a breath-taking and haunting piece of immersive theatre.