I so didn’t expect to be wearing goggles in a locker room playing thumb war with a guy on a Monday night, but that was exactly my experience of Non Zero One’s The Time Out.
Today people seem too busy to even breathe, let alone to make new acquaintances. We are stressed, we are lonely, and the only way we seem to be able to connect to another human being is to find them on the internet. It’s no coincidence that so many people seek help and read books about becoming more sociable, about how to engage with others and how to work together as a team at the office. The thought of standing up in front of strangers to share some of your intimate secrets seems daunting to most.
Unfortunately we are too rarely forced to come out of our shells, take a leap, and just connect with the people around us and forget our egos and fears. I did not think a wet Monday evening would let me experience that. But boy was I wrong.
When I first arrived at the Barbican I thought I’d be able to disappear in the crowd, safe and secure in my seat, observing the actors and passing judgement. But when we were shown into the theatre I was greeted by three benches. All with swimming hats on them, and two men waiting by the lockers only a few meters from me. One in swimwear. Panic.
Sitting in a group shoulder-to-shoulder in a locker room it is not very clear what is going on. A coach is telling you that in about ten minutes you and your fellow theatre-goers will be facing the final water polo match. In the intimate light and with Coach Ken talking directly to you and your teammates you feel like the rug has been pulled from under your feet and you’ve been kicked in the stomach with a boot. Interactive theatre is quite entertaining when you see the actor having a go at someone else but when it’s your turn it feels like you’ve been injected with adrenaline and your life is in serious danger. Will they force you into a pool? Do you have to perform in front of the others?
The fear is suddenly a reality – you are in a room with total strangers and when a voice speaks to all of you through speakers in the hats and sets out tasks to throw you together as a team your boundaries are bent and tested, as you have to answer questions, reveal secrets and have physical contact. People say one of the most daunting things is having to look strangers in the eye and hold their gaze – and of course this is tested in this different and exciting performance at the Barbican, in a small room at the bottom of the centre.
Non Zero One is a company of artists which explores ideas of audience responsibility and the relationships between their participants, using technology and live and pre-recorded material to allow intimate connections between the participants to happen, and they manage to do so with such a thrill that you feel safe in their hands at the same time as being fearful of what they might put you through next.
The use of technology is brilliant and creates a bubble around the participants so that they feel safe with each other and in the hands of the actors. It is strange how quickly you can open up to people you don’t know through the guidance of others. As soon as the door has been opened you feel yourself letting go and that is the reason for interactive theatre and why it work’s so brilliantly in The Time Out. It’s subtle, real and is a gentle nudge in the right direction – towards letting others in and letting go.
I rarely get so excited about a performance that I buzz all the way home, but Non Zero One’s brilliant execution of The Time Out and the way the actors listen and respond to their participants has left me hanging, wanting more. On the tube home I felt lost – where were all my new teammates? The intimacy?
I found myself desperate to bond with another stranger – and that’s something I haven’t felt for a long time.
The Time Out is playing at the Barbican Centre until 4 November. For more information and tickets, see www.barbican.org.uk