Review: Souvenir, Secret Location
4.0stars

Arriving at a Fitzrovia flat whose rent I’d be scared to speculate, I am welcomed to Anna’s thirtieth birthday party. Looking around at the immaculate décor which definitely isn’t flat-pack and observing the other guests who join me, I already get the sense I shouldn’t be here; turns out none of us should be. 

Although that’s about as specific as this is going to get in order to preserve the sacred secrecy of a show like Souvenir, as a reference point Tristan Bernays’ play has really taken a leaf out of Black Mirror’s book. Bernays’ setting is innately appropriate; no need to worry about the awkward confusion and polite mingling of other immersive shows—a surprise party bringing together someone’s nearest and dearest is full of that naturally. Throwing the audience into this set-up allows us to blame any tension on the setting, so when the surprise punch is thrown, it lands. 

Although there are about a dozen of us in the room, only three are actors. Our birthday girl is played by Sonya Cullingford, her boyfriend is played by Damian Gildea, and her best friend is played by Bonnie Adair. All three really do make me feel like I know them.

The technical elements of the show are slick. Full-stop. They are seamless. It would be annoying to watch a show whose premise encouraged an intimate realism, but whose tech blatantly cut through that atmosphere. The artistically intelligent use of an Alexa, a doctored news report designed by Joe Youens, and a household lighting system allows the tech to complement the piece remarkably well, whilst remaining in the realistic outlines of this particular given circumstance. This piece’s attention to detail has served it well; by making our surroundings familiar, the message can hit closer to home. 

What makes this show truly successful is that even though the venue and the audience are new each night, the experience is still tailored and personalised. If you really want to get under someone’s skin, you have to find a way to target them personally with the themes, even if they’re a stranger. And believe me, I am stood wide eyed and heart pumping when the time comes, so job done. 

This hour show pays attention to detail without getting bogged down in it. It is timed brilliantly, designed beautifully, and delivered with wit and intelligence. Immersive theatre can turn sour very quickly for an audience member, but even though the subject leaves me cautious about the world I’m re-entering, this company have created a world that is worth stepping into.

Souvenir is playing secret venues with new dates being released. For more information and tickets, visit Any One Thing’s website.