Pros: If you’re a fan of fairy lights and summer festivals, this quirky subterranean play is your portal into your favourite place.
Cons: It is unclear of who you are as an audience member and the acting tone of the piece flits from funny to serious in a way that doesn’t feel very intentional.
The Illumination is an incredibly well thought out performance based in a bar called Luminere. The location of the venue, Homerton, is a bit hard to get to so there aren’t any chains – just lots of wonderful independent businesses that ooze personality. This bar is no exception and neither is this performance.
There is a cult *ahem* I mean spiritual organisation, called Scholars of the Last Torch who are holding an open day and you are invited to find out more about illuminating your path in life. This is an immersive performance of colour, variety and a lot of spark where what lurks beneath the surface lurks no longer.
Velvet Loop are a collective collaboration of theatre makers who’ve pulled of an impressive feat here. They manage to create a totally interactive setting with storyline threads which one has to choose between (in a very natural manner). Yet, no matter which perspective you choose, the entire unfolding of events or mood is never missed.
I’m a fairly brave theatre goer so as they invite interactions I was asking difficult questions, initiating conversations and contributing to the set of events. Did they bat an eyelid? Nope. Character consistency was kept throughout. The actors were clearly as immersed as we are.
There were times when this was a little forced – a conversation which needed to fill X time was dragged out in a way which wasn’t very naturalistic, which I assume was the intended style. The acting also didn’t feel very ingrained: the characters were not complex enough. Each had one function and this became their single side. Each had a full back story which was slowly eeked out in the course of events, but the superficial nature of each character prevented total immersion.
I won’t spoil the ending, but since the premise is a creepy cult trying to show their best face to members and failing, the fall could have been terrifying. As it was, I had to bite my lips to stop myself laughing multiple times at actions which were being acted as earnest but were clearly ridiculous.
The other factor which broke emotional immersion was the role of the audience member. If it’s to sit down, shut up and clap – that’s fine, we know what we’re doing. Navigating audience experience is a difficult discipline and Velvet Loop are on the way to getting it right with their skilful dialogue. The premise of being invited to an open ‘day’ of workshops and talks is a good one. It established ‘me’ as a curious spiritual adventurer wanting to find out more. During the course of events this is totally broken. You can be party to very private conversations, get in the middle of arguments and witness uncomfortable situations. In reality, these would all be dealt with another day and there would only be a strained tension. In practice you flit between being their guest to being a fly on the wall. This doesn’t sit quite right.
The music is very well chosen so it is unnoticeable and is designed as background music – yet carries the emotional escalation of the piece to perfection. There’s a very clever website and YouTube video which I do wish had been more enmeshed in the process of the experience beforehand.
Just a special thanks to visual designer – the whole place is magical – and the passive aggressive post-it notes were just wonderful.
All in all – this is a performance that needs to become your entire to do list. It is a mystical miasma for your brain as well as your senses that creates a highly enjoyable experience despite its draw-backs.
Created by: Velvet Loop
Booking Until: 3rd April 2013
Booking Link: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-illumination-a-night-with-the-scholars-of-the-last-torch-tickets-10253411229