Stephen O'Connell – 'Because our work is devised and immersive we tend to prototype it over a number of years'

This article is from 2017

Stephen O'Connell – 'Because our work is devised and immersive we tend to prototype it over a number of years'

bluemouth inc follow up Fringe hit Dance Marathon with new interactive show Party Game

In 2011, bluemouth inc presented a Fringe show that chafed at the boundaries of dance, theatre, gigs and clubbing. Dance Marathon evoked the spirit of the endurance contests of the 1930s, in which dancers would compete to stay awake and moving for extended periods of time. With gentle interludes, competitions and plenty of audience interaction, it established bluemouth as serious and playful makers of events that defied easy categorisation.

Stephen O'Connell, one of the company's founders, recognises that this year's offering, Party Game, does echo 2011's sensation. 'There are certainly some aesthetic and formal similarities,' he notes. 'Both show incorporate dance, music, text, video and engage directly with an ambulatory audience. However, Party Game is certainly the most narrative piece of theatre we have created to date. Based around a surprise party, which the audience are invited to help prepare, it developed from an earlier show, It Comes in Waves, which began with a canoe ride to an island.

For Edinburgh, the venue – the Wee Red Bar – is more accessible, but bluemouth's approach is grounded in the imaginative use of atypical theatrical spaces, lending the drama a sense of occasion and immersing the audience within the story. A live band, and games, contribute to the atmosphere, while a story of loss gradually emerges from the fun and activity. Dance Marathon was more an experience than a story – at times, the connection between the various stories and the happening was hard to fathom – but It Comes in Waves pursued a more familiar structure: the difficult dynamics of family life and the exposure of hidden emotions lent it an immediacy and pushed the integration of the event's multiple theatrical strategies.

Emphasising the importance of the venue, however, O'Connell regards Party Game as more than just a further iteration of It Comes in Waves: 'Because our work is devised and immersive we tend to prototype it over a number of years with regularly scheduled public showing to integrate feedback from the participants: Party Game in Edinburgh will be the premiere of the work that has been several years in development.' Bluemouth's approach to theatre, both immersive and site response, has become increasingly fashionable – not least due to their success – and, as the various reviews which refuse to divulge details of plot or themes testify, each performance takes on its own character, responding to the audience's engagement and the environment.

Although it makes considerable demands on the audience, O'Connell believes that this kind of theatre is all the more crucial today. 'Live performance has become even more resonate and necessary in the digital age,' he says. 'To be even more specific, immersive live performance has become more resonate and imperative.' And it is the act of coming together that determines its importance. 'Younger audiences have grown up in a nonlinear digital world. They process and discard information and ideas at an accelerated rate. Meaningful discussion happens when people take the time to share the same physical space. The impact of that exchange is greater the closer you get to one another. When you turn up the lights and acknowledge that we are all sharing the same space.'

'Turning up the lights' is about more than scenography: Party Game's plot is driven by a light shone into the darker recesses of human experience. Immersive theatre, concerned with placing the audience inside a play, and blurring the lines between actor and observer – as in helping the cast prepare the venue for the upcoming party – also demands a more intimate kind of storytelling and, despite the spectacle that bluemouth provide, it is the closeness of the performers that powers their drama. Through this, Party Game becomes more than just another show, adding in a ritualistic, emotive and disorientating intensity to a grand night out.

Traverse at the Wee Red Bar, until 20 Aug (not 14), times vary, £21.50 (£16.50).

Party Game

  • 2 stars

bluemouth inc and Necessary Angel Theatre Company You are cordially invited to a surprise party. With the guidance of your host and help from the other guests, you get ready for the big surprise – but when it arrives, it’s clear no amount of planning can prepare you for what lies ahead. Accompanied by dance, theatre and…