Originally published on A Younger Theatre
American Psycho, Seven and Dahmer were all given medium scores on Rotten Tomatoes when they were released, with the public giving (as expected) higher scores than the critics. At least, that is what BARK tell us when we are standing in the middle of their immersive theatre experience. A performance space in Shoreditch that has white tiles resembling a psychiatric ward is the setting for their latest experience, retelling three different real life serial killer stories that were adapted into films. In the background the films are playing on silent.
The actors are present as the audience enter the space and everyone has a chance to mingle, discuss serial killings and take photos on the roughly constructed sets before the show begins. The actors read out quotations from different serial killers over the years. They are supposed to overlap each other; milliseconds after one speech stops another starts so that the dialogue is fluid but audible. In reality there are awkward pauses, as if the performers themselves are unaware when each is about to finish their respective monologue.
Then the three scenes are individually acted out in tandem with the film clip playing on the screen. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt discuss the case in Seven, Jeremy Renner stalks his next victim in Dahmer and Christian Bale buries an axe in Jared Leto’s back in American Psycho. The actors themselves attempt to recreate this and lip sync in time with the projected film but it doesn’t work and is frankly distracting. They also at the end of the production asks each other short, snappy questions about who is likely to die first, which cast members would kill each other and what their favourite colours are. That last question is particularly pertinent to the show in some way – it crops up a lot in the discussion even though there is absolutely no reason as to why.
In between these events the fun occurs. The scenes are then cleverly overlayed and acted one on top of the other, one actor naturally begins speaking when another in a totally separate scene naturally finishes their line. The chosen three film clips suddenly make sense here; the actors are able to convey an overall sense of intensity that the films are meant to convey, but because this is live the emotion is somehow heightened. Of course, since this is immersive theatre, the actors rotate between scenes and invite audience members to replay the characters as they go. Some of them are good teachers in the scene, others are not. Either way different audience members (seemingly chosen from the cast’s friends and family) copy their actor-turned-director counterparts. The whole thing lasts too long, as if the theatre company are trying to eke out a few extra minutes to the show to justify charging for tickets.
Overall the concept is muddy. The audience wandering between scenes and immersing themselves in the production is clear, but what is not clear is the message. Apart from informing about three sets of murders and paying tribute to their corresponding films, the show has no point. If it is meant to resurface these particular stories, there needs to be more background. If it is meant to provoke a response regarding the murders, there needs to be more scene and more emotional contribution by the cast. If it is simply meant to inform about these stories, it does that. But if the latter is the case, then it isn’t worth seeing again.
No. 1 is a production by BARK Theatre that played at the Rag Factory on 5 September. For more information on their work, see the BARK Theatre website.