Hurriedly rushed into a car down a side street by the venue is the way that Rubber begins. A quick content warning and then slam – doors are shut; it’s just me and one other person, seatbelts on and silence. We’re in a stiflingly hot car and we’re about to take a drive, witnessing a play unfold in the front two seats.
A young guy in the driver’s seat answers his phone and soon Jess, played by Sophia Luu joins him. She’s dressed like any other woman you’d pass on the street, save perhaps for the huge hoop earrings dangling from her ears which sway with every turn the car takes. This for me is one of the most poignant things about the piece. Exploring the nature of modern sex work is an incredibly interesting topic and Pentire Street manages to do it with maturity beyond their years. Jess’s clothes show exactly the nature of her work, the fact that for her it is just a job; something she and her co-workers do for myriad reasons. Jess’s own reason becomes clear within a few uncomfortable minutes, her boyfriend Tom (Hayden Munt) has become a more dangerous version of a love interest, her pimp. We’re not let in to his motivations until much later on but the lyrical nature of the script demonstrates his coercive nature in a wonderfully disturbing way.
This is immersive theatre like nothing else. You cannot leave the car, you cannot walk away from what you are witnessing, you only have your own lap to look into when the images in front of you become too much for you to witness. Even attempting to while away the time in the silences by looking at the Edinburgh countryside out of the window becomes impossible when you are snapped back to reality with a comment or emotion from Munt and Luu. The obvious synergy between them is palpable in the air and more than once I found myself remarking internally on how intense the production schedule must be for them as actors, with three shows a day and only a short break between them (mostly spent returning to central Edinburgh in the car).
After the immersive experience, being driven back to the venue by the show’s director, Patrick Wilson, felt a little crass. This form of direct feedback to a production team is something I have never experienced before and provides an incredibly interesting thirty minutes. His research into the topic is extensive and he speaks with such honesty it is refreshing to also see someone so open to both criticism and praise. This is immersive theatre at its finest and although I feel the first half was significantly stronger than the second, I am very excited to see what this young company come up with next. Should they decide to tour and use different cities, I’ll be the first to grab a ticket.
Rubber is playing three times a day at ZOO Southside until August 28.