My OP correspondent (see previous blog) also asks about interactivity between actors and audience. He was thinking about OP and the Globe, but today I am still getting over my most recent experience of audience/performance interaction, namely, last night at the Capital Centre at Warwick University. Fail Better Productions concluded a Beckett study day by presenting a brilliant production of two Samuel Beckett shorts. No failing better at all, here; indeed, I can't imagine them succeeding worse.
You might not have come across the Capital Centre, as it only started in May of this year. It's a great idea - a partnership between the University of Warwick and the Royal Shakespeare Company, established to use theatre performance skills and experience to enhance student learning and to draw on University research and resources to shape the development of the RSC acting companies. It's already done some exciting work, as I discovered yesterday.
The two pieces were Rough for Theatre 2 and Ohio Impromptu. The first is a duologue in which two men, 'A' and 'B', review the life of 'C', who is standing motionless, with his back to the audience, ready to jump out of the window. The second is also a duologue, but of a rather different kind, between two characters, a Reader and a Listener. The Reader reads from a book (with blank pages, in this production) telling the Listener's story. The Listener says nothing, but controls the reading by knocking on the table with his hand, thereby making the reader go back over parts of the story.
I had seen both before on film - and indeed, apart from Waiting for Godot, the only Beckett I have ever seen has been on film (I have the Beckett on Film DVD), and therefore very much as a passive observer. In an intimate space, such as the Capital, with the actors just a few feet away, I was enthralled by the way Beckett's language sucked me in, so that it felt that I was almost a part of the action, and I was surprised by the number of places where the Rough for Theatre 2 dialogue invited me to react. I had never felt that when watching on film, where the experience was (for me) primarily an intellectual one. It was a delight to discover so much humour in the play - not least because it was so well brought out by the actors and the director, who it appears - from comments in the talkback afterwards - were reinforced, energized, and sometimes surprised by the audience's reactions. For the record, the actors were Jonathan Broke ('A' and Listener) and Ben Crystal ('B' and Reader) and the director was Jonathan Heron (who also played 'C').
The whole thing reminded me so much of Shakespeare's Globe - which is what prompted this post in the first place! - where an audience can take a while to realize that it is allowed to be dynamic in its relationship to what is going on on stage, but once it does, it takes off! There were several moments in the OP productions when the use of the distinctive accent triggered a specific response - the one I remember best was the pronunciation of the name Ajax as 'a-jakes' (where jakes is the Elizabethan word for 'pisshouse'), which always got a laugh when normally the line would have been heard in silence. I would try and remember some other examples, but my head is full of Beckett today, and once he is inside your head it takes a while for him to go away.