Everyone wants to be an armchair detective. After the popularity of Netflix show How to Make a Murderer our insatiable need for crime thrillers has gone wild. Nuclear family is a real time, murder mystery, whodunit thriller, determined by the decisions and morals of the audience.
After a small introduction from the host, the audience is notified of a nuclear power explosion in 1996, we then roll back through video footage of the power plant’s security at the time, siblings Joe and Ellen. Our mission as audience members is not to decide the fate of their lives but to choose the most appropriate decision that should have been made at the time as part of an impartial jury.
At times the experience feels a bit like a strange gameshow, as a suited host supplies us with a list of options to dictate the direction of the narrative. We are given two minutes to decide the fate of the siblings with police case files and audio files to aid our decisions.
As is the case with most participatory theatre, the audience takes a few goes to warm up, but we increasingly become more invested in our choices as they ultimately determine how to save a town from a life threatening nuclear explosion.
As with Fever Dream’s other show at the Fringe, Wrecked, the writing cleverly weaves a strong bond between character and audience, allowing a huge amount of emotional investment in such a short space of time. Unlike Wrecked, where a six person audience sits in the car with one actress, Nuclear Family puts us in the security office of a nuclear plant and we are unable to think beyond its claustrophobic walls. The show is a co-production with Sunday’s Child, combining brilliant Irish new writing with innovative site specific spaces.
As the audience shouts across the room to each other about who to sacrifice to send into the nuclear power tube, its apparent that we’ve all been sucked into the narrative in an immense way. When wrong decisions are made, genuine disappointment sweeps the room in a way that only participatory theatre can create.
In an attempt to make participatory theatre less intimidating, Nuclear Family creates instant connections across the audience, and provides a fast paced story determined by invested spectators. A great show, and an exhilarating experience for all involved.
Nuclear Family is playing Assembly Roxy until August 29.