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The new fashion in theatre is to stray as far from theatre as possible.  Exeter Graduates ‘Punchdrunk’, for example, have repeatedly proved this with productions like their recent Tunnel 228.  Wildworks – sister company of the glorious Kneehigh – have similarly positioned themselves at the forefront of this fashion with their radical production ‘The Beatiful Journey’ which opened this month.
‘The Beautiful Journey’ is, in their own words, an ‘installation’ constructed and performed on Plymouth Docks.  Walking into the space, I was free to stand where I liked, watch what I wanted to, or even just wander off to the bar (where I bought a beer and a Danish Pastry.)  Surrounding me were 100 performers, both professionals and local amateurs, doing anything from knitting a jumper to strumming a guitar, and mingling freely with the audience.  The effect: total immersion within the post-apocalyptic world created, in which caberet performers keep spirits up with songs and dances and mystical prophets fly above in cages.  The immersion continued as I was invited to have my fortune told, my memories projected by a magical machine or to have my hair braided, which wasn’t such an appealing idea.  This performance involved the audience so much, that it wouldn’t have even existed without them.
The ‘beautiful’ element certainly shines throughout with music, lighting and impressive set dressings, but it was only in the latter stages of the evening that my ‘journey’ began, as I followed a block of ice into a warehouse, and a boat into the sea.  ‘Follow what where?’ You ask.  And so any reasonable person might, but the enchantment of the show overpowered reason with wonder, and everybody – including myself – seemed unquestioningly taken in.
Taken in and enchanted, yes, but did I feel challenged by the performance’s themes? perhaps not.  In fact, I would struggle to name a single character, plot or piece of symbolism involved.  Instead, I left the docks happy to have been so entertained by an an entirely immersive experience.  Regardless of it’s intentions, ‘The Beautiful Journey’ represents a fashionable move away from fourth-wall theatre, and I for one find it thrilling.

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