Pros: Innovative approach to collective audience experience, staging and use of free running in performance.
Cons: For me personally it felt like a case of style over substance.
The Roof, commissioned by the ever brilliant LIFT Festival, promised to be awesome. The third collaboration between theatre director David Rosenberg (cofounder of Shunt) and choreographer Frauke Requardt, combines free running with an innovative approach to stage design and the collective audience experience.
The initial experience upon arrival is in fact kind of worth the ticket price if you’re really into experiential theatre (maybe). You turn up at a car park behind the National Theatre, catch a quick toilet break, holding your breath obviously, (its ok this is cutting edge theatre so the toilets don’t need to be fragrant) and then pick up your headphones. You are then hearded into a purpose built arena, where put on your headphones and wait with anticipation. While you wait you glance around inquisitively at all the other audience members, who are looking at you in a similar fashion. As the show starts you hear someone running towards you from behind. They start speaking in your ear, and it’s as if it’s just you they are talking to among the crowd at that moment. There obviously isn’t anyone behind you, apart from other audience members hearing the same thing, but it feels real. Then you notice a figure appear on stage above you from a trap door on the set and the show begins. It’s pretty exciting and feels quite special. And for the first ten minutes in the space, at least, you think you might be witnessing ingenuity and innovation in equal measure.
To be fair, you kind of are and what follows is quite impressive in places. The show is set within the ‘suspended reality of a brutal and unforgiving game’ to quote the tagline. The audience watch a hero navigate the levels of the game, giving monsters the slip, jumping across a set of roof tops and gaining points to stay alive. The audience are meant to feel that they are the hero but are also meant to helplessly watch on as the hero gets churned up in the relentless pursuit of points, losing himself in the process.
The physical skill and talent of the performers is not to be questioned and there are obvious messages in the concept. Somehow, though, I found my mind wandering; and the show is only an hour long. I felt that the messages from the show were reasonably clever in a top-line way but weren’t developed enough. They felt lacking and thus I was quite disappointed by the end of the performance.
The creative team behind the show, Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg, were brought together by Fuel Theatre Company, who are celebrating their 10th birthday this year. Fuel aim to produce projects by artists who they believe to have a unique insight into the world in which we live, and who create moments for audiences to experience a different perspective. I recently caught one of their other collaborations, Going Dark, at the Science Museum and it did exactly that. The Roof show does have glimmers of this and the collective audience experience through the use of the headphones. The arena style staging too hits this goal perfectly and impressively. So for this alone it’s probably worth going to see this show – it’s definitely more than in the running with other trendy experiential theatre makers like Punchdrunk and Secret Cinema.
Conceived, directed & choreographed: Frauke Requardt & David Rosenberg
Music and Sound: Dave Price
Producer: Presented by Fuel in association with the National Theatre. Commissioned by LIFT Festival.
Set Design: Jon Bausor
Costume design: Hannah Clark
Lighting: Jon Clark
Booking Until: 28 June 2014
Booking Link: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-roof