The intention of immersive theatre is to transport the audience member into another world, not just as a passive bystander but as a part of the action, no matter how small. Site-specific and promenade theatre immerses its audiences by surrounding them with an environment, or variety of environments, that heightens the reality of the theatrical experience. It is currently a popular trend in the London theatre scene and the question is whether promenade and immersive theatre is just a novelty or a valid and innovative technique. Macbeth, in and around Clapham Omnibus, is an ambitious staging of this Shakespeare classic; a cold November evening around a leafy common a perfect setting for it.
With this promenade performance the majority of the action laboured into being rather than exploding and arising spontaneously and intuitively. With the nature of a piece that moves from one setting to another, inevitably the action of the play must halt as we are shepherded, by volunteers in hi-vis jackets, to the next performance spot; these slow transitions hardly added to the immersive experience. Unfortunately at times too it was difficult to hear some of the spoken text in the busy Clapham streets. When we moved inside of the Clapham Omnibus, 20 minutes or so into the performance, and for almost the entirety of rest of the play, we were seated and performed to in the round. If this new space was only to represent Macbeth’s castle, before moving to another area for subsequent scenes, it would make sense for us to be placed there. But with the performance divulging into this more traditional staging it jarred artistically with the previous promenade scenes. I would ask, is there a need at all for the promenade aspect of this production? The lighting in the space was very dark, perhaps too dark, and the recorded and videoed elements felt clichéd and unnecessary.
Gregory Finnegan as Macbeth does considerably well to carry the heavy weight of this lumbering piece through to a climax. The honesty and realism of his performance is quite compelling. Alex Phelps as Malcolm and Jack Bennett as Macduff also put in some striking portrayals that make you sit up in your seat. However, Jennifer Jackson as Lady Macbeth fails to live up to this demanding role, with a major part of her lines purely recited and with a portrayal thoroughly unreal and uninteresting.
The artistic vision of this production is stuck between a number of theatrical techniques and ultimately fails for it. Gemma Kerr’s production would benefit from smaller audiences and a more intimate and thought through presentation to really add to the immersive nature of the piece.
Macbeth plays at Clapham Omnibus until 29 November. For more information and tickets, see Clapham Omnibus website.