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Behind Closed Doors in an interactive, outdoor and (importantly) socially distant production that takes us on a journey to different houses in Spitalfields, East London. I am new to experiencing immersive theatre and initially I assume the production will be a ghost story, set on the dimmed streets of London with actors bumping into us. Instead, this production explores the secret lives of our neighbours, hidden behind net curtains and frosted windows.
Our journey starts at Christ Church Spitalfields, a beautiful 18th Century church in the heart of the area. At night, this building is a magnificent sight looming above my head with a radiant rose glow at my feet.
In this performance you are in control of your destiny – using the performance’s specially designed website, you choose and answer questions and this decides where your story leads. We are asked to peer into the windows of the different houses we visit and listen to the story of the person inside. On our journey we are accompanied by a narrator, whose deep pitch and measured pace are incredibly welcoming. He articulates each word with an omniscient tone suggesting he knows our fate.
Socially-distanced and clutching my phone, I locate the first house. Inside is a young, Black male who sits away from the window, cross-legged and looking down. It looks like he is concentrating on intricate crafts, but he never looks up while I stare inside. I am intrigued by the stories hidden within his silence.
Each window has its own audio recording which supports the show, these are vital in enticing us to lean forward and examine the room. The life in the voice actors is captivating — it is as if a friend is speaking close beside me. The set design is beautiful, with Chusi Amoros, Marie Klimis and Dajana Trtanj creating distinct and intriguing atmospheres in each room.
Down the street, at another house, the glass reveals a mature woman seductively dancing in her crimson-lit front room. Mai Nguyen Tri has a hopeless expression on her face; I try to make firm eye contact with her but she never turns her gaze away from the empty street behind me. I become intrigued and attempt more interaction with the next character – Eva Garcias. Gaël Le Cornec puts on a display of being a ‘perfect mother’, though inside she is crumbling. Garcias seems lonely, she has a lost look on her powdered cheeks as if she wants someone to come in and sit with her for a while. Outside in the harsh wind, there is a moment where I stare into Le Cornec’s eyes, waiting to see who looks away first. She does and returns to the never-ending vegetables she is preparing.
Every actor’s performance truly convinces me that I am staring into strangers’ homes. This is enhanced by the fact that few acknowledge my presence, which I enjoy because it makes me feel as if nothing is hidden from me. For the most part, it is as if they do not know the curtain is drawn open.
With the performance set in the streets, I can move around the stage and meet each character for as long as I desire. The audience is free to control their experience, taking the time to stand close to the window or gaze from a distance. In a physical theatre, there is a barrier between performers and spectators, so this performance’s immersive style is a fresh and new way to explore such personal stories.
Behind Closed Doors was available to watch live in Spitalfields 14-17 April. For more information see 27 Degrees’s website.