It’s not easy to describe or review immersive theatre pieces, such as this one currently being offered by StampCollective at the Theatre Delicatessen, Marylebone. Comparisons to previous works, such as Punchdrunk’s Masque of the Red Death, or more recently The Good Neighbour (both at Battersea Arts Centre – the home and hub, it seems, of immersive theatre), or the work by the fledgling Banner Theatre, based in Birmingham, are of little use, as one of the key points of immersive theatre is that it is just so, so different.
Moralgorithm is the deliberately ambiguous and clinical name of a dreary and Orwellian product-testing company. The 1984-esque setting is finely attuned, all the way down to the grey tiled carpeting and strip-lights. The audience, or new employees, are then split into teams and barked at by the general manager (Gaia Harvey-Jackson) into visiting different workstations. But change is afoot and the smell of revolt is in the air. Moralgorithm is experiencing its very own Arab Spring, or rather ‘Battenberg Rebellion’ (all will be explained once you’re there). We workers group together, aided by the more established members of staff, to overthrow the management and escape. And it’s exhausting stuff.
The level of detail that has gone into making this is very impressive indeed. With immersive theatre, you can only plan so far, and much has to be left to chance, or the whim of a particularly anarchic audience member. I was selected to assist with the uprising, and was tasked to find whistles to help equip my workers come the revolution. (Incidentally, I’d like to think I fulfilled this role with aplomb, bearing in mind I was asked if I was ‘a plant’ by another audience member at the end of the piece.) The whistles were scattered around the space, as were plenty of red herrings – a set of keys, or some scribbled down notes – the depth of thought that has gone into this is quite remarkable.
Equally remarkable is the level of information about participants that is stored and fed into the marketing of future products; no throw-away quip is safe, everything said can, and quite possibly will, be used against you. As I said, quite Orwellian indeed.
After all was said and done, I caught up with and questioned StampCollective’s Ellie, who had ably played Moralgorithm’s supervisor and revolt instigator. She described her work as creating “real life imaginary playgrounds”. With revolt as a theme, was there a political undercurrent to the piece? “Yes”, she replied, “but what art doesn’t?”, before going on to stress that StampCollective’s work was political, but also, well, a little bit silly (hence the emphasis on Battenberg cake). I was interested to discover that Moralgorithm was just one piece of a jigsaw of a wholly created world, and that Stampcollective have performed interlinking works at the Bush Theatre, Southbank Centre and the Hackney Downs Studios. The potential therefore to get to know, and actively engage with, characters over a variety of spaces and settings is, I believe, a very exciting development for the future of theatre, and one that A Younger Theatre should keep an eye on.
Moralgorithm is the last performance at Theatre Delicatessen in Marylebone before it is turned into a block of flats. What further reason do you need therefore to catch something so different?
StampCollective’s Moralgorithm is running at Theatre Delicatessen until 23 March. For more information and tickets, see the Theatre Delicatessen website.