14 October 2016

Confessional at Southwark Playhouse was immersive physically and emotionally

Confessional described itself as a "semi-immersive production" that "reimagines Tennessee Williams’s play", and there is a lot in those few words to like. "Tennessee Williams" would probably be enough and adding "semi-immersive" tipped any balance that needed tipping. Any production that has an immersive element is going to appeal to me.

And it was on at the Southwark Playhouse which is one of my favourite venues. Admittedly that is a fairly long list but the Playhouse is probably in the top ten and that's a good position.

One of the nice things about having regular theatres is that I can build regular evenings around them, i.e. how to get there and where to eat, and I have a good plan for the Playhouse.

This started with catching the 17:43 train from Teddington to Waterloo but being pulled into a late meeting with the CEO meant I missed that and the next and had to rush to catch the 17:58. Luckily the fifteen minute delay was not a big problem as the play was not due to start until 8pm.

After Waterloo, the next step was a curry at Culture Grub on The Cut. This has become my pre-theatre venue of choice for four local theatres. That is because the food is excellent, their is a wide choice for vegetarians, the service is unbelievably quick and the price is ridiculously cheap. I made a quick choice of the Schezwan style curry with fried rice. It was delicious. I had been in Wagamama the day before and they do not come close to this.

From there it was about a twenty minute walk to the Playhouse and I arrived about 7:30pm, a good thirty minutes before the show.

So I was surprised to see the door to the little theatre already open. I needed no further invitation and I so went in only to find myself in a pub. The semi-immersive element was obvious with some of the cast already at the bar drinking. I claimed a seat at a table in the middle of the room.

 I had been given a wristband saying "Admittance Monk's Palace" on the way in and I took advantage of the to go out to the normal theatre bar to get a coffee. The bar in the theatre was selling drinks too but I was still off the alcohol (antibiotics).

The play began with a disturbance outside of the pub which led to a woman running into the pub and locking herself in a cubicle in the ladies. She was shortly followed by another young woman, Leona, played by Lizzie Stanton. It quickly emerged that the cause of the violent dispute was the other woman's under the table (literally) antics with Leona's boyfriend, though current man in tow might be a better description as it was little more than one in a string of holiday romances.

The other characters in the bar included an alcoholic doctor, a chef infatuated with the young woman with the hand skills and the landlord. They were soon joined by a couple of gay men, one very young and one middle aged.

I presume that the play got its name, Confessional, from its format with each of the characters given a chance to say something about their lives and aspirations. These confession type speeches peppered some intense dialogue between the people in the bar who were the sort of people I believe you find in Eastenders (I never watch it) and who did not like each other. Even those having sex together did not like each other. Love and tenderness were strangers in that bar.

Monk's confession was made from a seat next to mine, making the semi-immersive experience really quite immersive. He told us that he was against having gays in the bar not for any religious or moral reasons but because gays attracted other gays and the pub would become a popular gay bar and would attract the attention of local gangsters and policemen. He wanted a quiet pub. Monk also walked around the tables collecting the empties and he took my coffee cup when I had finished.

It was not all words, fights and hands under the table either. In the biggest incident a child died. Probably. This echoed the death of Leona's brother which this was the anniversary of. It was not a light play in subject matter or mood.

There was a lot to take in from the many stories and conversations/arguments and having the actors move around us added immensely to the experience. I have had night in the Hand and Flower not unlike that, but not quite as dark.

In the centre of this was Leona, brash, confident and sassy without being vulgar or slutty. Incidentally it was only afterwards that I realised that there had been little or no swearing, very unlike the similar pub conversations that I had witnessed. Anyway, back to Leona; Lizzie Stanton played her perfectly. She was a young woman we could understand but not love.

Confessional was immersive in both a physical and an emotional sense. I like immersive theatre and I loved Confessional.

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