The launch of the annual Sprint Festival at Camden People’s Theatre took place not in a theatre as expected, but in the living room for an intimate audience of ten people. Birmingham-based The Other Way Works presented its newest out-of-the-confines-of-a-theatre-space show Avon Calling. Based on the 125-year-old ‘ding-dong’ of Avon representatives across the world who bring beauty into the homes of the everyday person, Avon Calling is a delicate piece of immersive storytelling.
The door bell rings promptly at 5.30pm, and into the living room comes Deborah (Louise Platt), our Avon representative for the evening. Dressed in a luminous pink suit, carrying red suitcases and bringing the faint whiff of perfume into the air, Deborah begins the 90-minute exploration of Avon products, history and personal stories. It’s an intimate, tender, often laugh-out-loud piece of work that combines an interactive environment for its small audience with a story of a girl bearing the weight of her mother’s expectations.
The piece is designed for audience members to share the experience with their friends in the comfort of their living room. Just like raunchy Anne Summer parties, Avon Calling uses games and make-up experiences to involve the audience in the products of Avon with the host of the evening. Platt’s character Deborah is a somewhat nervous representative, seeking assurance from her audience that all is going well, as the instructive voice of her mother is heard from bottles and tubs of Avon products, a haunting, jarring voice. It makes for a clever mix of our own experiences with the products combined with the narrative, although at times it is a little noticeable when the storyline is going to be delivered.
Yet what The Other Way Works offers is a performance piece that doesn’t so much as push boundaries as it does warm your heart and make your sides ache with laughter. It’s a tender exploration, and one that feels honest and real. Whilst there are times where it feels a little forced, this is easily dissolved in the giggles of games as you enjoy applying lipstick (yes, I really did!), hunt out the scent of perfumes or relax with cucumbers over your eyes as a relaxation CD is played.
Platt’s Deborah is the sort of character that you want to hold tightly and tell everything is going to be alright, as she describes the boxes of products that line her walls, shelves and rooms in her home. She is trapped within the world of Avon and her oppressive mother’s voice stopping her from being who she wants to be. For a piece that relies upon an audience being willing to join in, Avon Calling delivers a charming, heartfelt tickling of the senses, and if you’re not moved emotionally, you will at least enjoy the set up.
At times when its increasingly hard to get your work programmed at venues unless you’re banging on the doors demanding to be let in, it’s good to see The Other Way Works exploring theatre beyond the solid walls of a traditional venue. Taking the intimate performance into the even more intimate environment of a living room is one way of proving that theatre can exist outside a proscium arch or black box studio. Whilst it’s not ground-breaking, Avon Calling is certainly a charming piece of theatre thinking outside the box. Full of giggles and tenderness it makes for the perfect start to Sprint, a festival challenging our perspectives on theatre and performance curated by the new artistic team at Camden People’s Theatre.
The Sprint Festival is running at Camden People’s Theatre until June 2012. For more information see the Camden People’s Theatre website.