Review: One by One

Laura Gilbert 13 November 2013

Mon 11 Nov 2013, Corpus Playroom

Well, that was incredibly fun.

Before going into One by One, I didn’t actually really understand what it was, so I decided to just go with it. The production opened up with me receiving a phone call, and I realized I was meant to be a producer. Then I quit my job. The man on the phone sounded angry. He even hung up on me. I was sent into the next room, where I became an assistant director, then the other director and I decided that our actor was probably crazy and a threat to the theatre, or definitely suspicious at least (if the poor audience member I did this to last night is reading this, I am sorry). At one point of the experience I was led into a room where I was meant to free a woman with a taped-up mouth, help her set up a birthday party, watch her re-enter the room with joyful surprise at the birthday party, then realize she couldn’t eat her cake because her mouth was gagged.

The Corpus Playroom’s exploration into immersive theatre was a massive success; note that above I used the word “experience”, and that is what director Alex O’Bryan-Tear provided last night. It is the theatrical tradition that we, the spectators, passively watch events unfold upon a stage, and even if there is some “audience involvement”, the attention is always on the actors. In One by One, each audience member made a solitary journey through a series of scenes where they were suddenly put into the limelight, becoming not just a performer but also a creator, given the motivation to shape their situation. At one point, it became apparent I was a murderer. However, how I reacted to being a murderer was up to me, and my “sister” was forced to react to my impetus.

In one way, the audience member had control. In another, they were left in a terrifying, unpredictable maze, unsure what was to come next, what they would be made to a part of – my companion was locked in a stable-type thing for a while, whereas I managed to escape this predicament, freeing a previous prisoner and wondering about with her trying to find “the end”. By the end of the night, I didn’t know what was real or not any more. A man at the “After-party” gave me a tenner and asked me to get his drink for him. I wasn’t sure if this was part of it or not. It turns out it wasn’t… but what if it was?

One by One was an experiment, and it paid off. I want to applaud the improvisational powers of the cast (who managed to maintain their characters no matter how weird or confused I was) and the chutzpah of the director and producer. Perhaps the outside scenes could have had a more energetic situational setting (they weren’t quite as driven as the earlier situations), but this could be easily forgiven.Whilst I recognize the form of immersive theatre has been seen in London in Punchdrunk productions and You Me Bum Bum Train, the attempt to launch this in a student setting under a much lower budget is applaudable. It’s riskier than showcasing a classic drama and incredibly awarding. There is so much potential in this production.

I want to ask some Cambridge-based theatre society to give them more funding, some location to offer them even more space, and the creative minds behind this to come up with new situations. Put this on again, but for more than one night, so more people can witness it. Don’t let it just be a “One”-off.