Raise your hand if you like a bit of Tom Hanks in a tin can?
You know what I mean. The movie Apollo 13. It is just bloody good fun, in that whole will he or wont he kind of way. Spoiler. He does.
Question. Take this story based on the events of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission and then stick it on stage where the audience (or at least a good deal of them) is in mission control and what do you have?
Well, want you don’t have is the will he or wont he. Not because there isn’t a Tom Hanks in sight, and certainly not because the fundamental story isn’t gripping. It is, regardless of familiarity.
But perhaps primarily because of the way it is done. This is an experiment in immersive theatre where the audience is involved in the re-telling of the drama. This is it’s strength and it’s weakness.
Your average person of the street is not a trained actor and will have only a basic familiarity with the story. Ask them even on mass to help in a re-telling and you got to be on your game. And indeed Hackman (the creators) are on their game, amazingly so.
A bit of background. For this re-telling you can chose to be either in mission-control and get one of the cool seats shown in the picture, or you get to sit in the media bank and watch on. I was in the media bank, and my comments reflect this view point. For an interesting take on sitting in mission control have a look at Katherine Lyall-Watson’s Comments.
Being an audience then puts you in one of two frames. This rare, and certainly encourages a second viewing/helping. One I would be inclined to take had the mission control seats not been sold out.
Why? Well as one watched on the disparity in experiences grew, the mission control began to look more like being caught on a runaway train and the impending doom that goes with that, while the media bank had that sense of watching a masterful illusion or a circus event, and the execution wow that goes with that. Where did this leave me?
Well, an interesting, albeit overly familiar story, a stunning and overwhelmingly successful re-interpretation of the theatre space and audience role, and finally a fun night out watching performers on their game, not immersing themselves in character, but instead immersing us (or at least part of us) in their world.
That they do this with such beguiling aptitude for me was the greatest pleasure of the evening.