Originally written for Exeunt
I am hemmed in against the wall of a honeymoon suite in the Hilton Docklands by a topless wedding guest, now struggling out of his trousers, and I am helpless with laughter. Six scenes into Dante or Die’s I Do and I am thoroughly charmed; by the pastel rose pinned to my lapel, by the hotel maid who ‘rewinds’ in Twin Peaks fashion after each scene, and by a cast so willing to play with us while maintaining the fiction that we are not really present.
There are ten minutes to go before Georgina and Tunde’s wedding and we are experiencing the turmoil contained in each of six hotel rooms occupied by their party, with every audience group witnessing the narrative unfold in a slightly different order.
I Do allows the audience to successfully create and hold a dichotomy where other immersive productions have failed; (literally) bumping into transitioning groups in the narrow corridors between scenes isn’t jolting somehow, and it is possible to be so thoroughly and unselfconsciously involved in each room that the anticipation in-between feels like part of the magic. One can acknowledge the show’s theatricality without feeling cheated by it. There is such a level of care and attention to detail in each piece that even members of the same group can experience the narrative differently; while I can see Tunde’s iPhone messages on my side of his room, another audience member is reading the note he is writing at his desk. We hear a voicemail message that we assume has been recorded prior to the show, only to encounter the best man leaving it in the next scene. The cacophony of sound in the corridors becomes clear as we begin to recognise individual voices.
There’s a freedom and a playfulness in most rooms, which is admittedly reliant to a certain extent on the audience’s willingness to engage with the space, but I was fortunate enough to find myself in a group that was not shy about climbing into a bathtub and having characters clamber over them on the sofa. There is nowhere we can stand or sit that feels off limits or hinders the cast – even when we may be an obstruction they work around us seamlessly, nurturing a boldness that is not often felt in site-specific pieces where it can seem as though the cast and setting are working at cross purposes and one can feel pinned to the wall like an ungainly prop. I Do is comfortable in its own skin, and this breeds some wonderfully poignant moments, as ten of us cluster anxiously around the result of a pregnancy test, hovering intimately close to its owner.
In a traditionally staged production we expect to be party to information withheld from the characters, but here we must wait for the mystery to unfold as they dash from one room to another that we have not yet explored; rather than waiting for the pieces of the puzzle to fit together, we must wait to find out what they are. As a method of narrative engagement this is highly effective; as we are left wondering whether every group has seen each scene played in an identical way, and with some mysteries left unsolved as we have not seen their elements unfold in an order that would allow us to develop a line of interrogation. Far from being frustrating, this adds to the sensation that we have encountered a unique alchemy of the piece’s components.
There are depths to this production beyond the skill of its execution, and Chloe Moss’ writing is alternately tender, uplifting and utterly crushing. In our first scene we are left alone with the grandfather of the bride, whose reduced mobility prevents him from getting out of his dress shirt in an overly warm room without help. Such a simple struggle is rendered absolutely eviscerating as any one of us could go over and help him, but we don’t. We are party to the narrative but we are not part of it.
Dante or Die shy away from using the term immersive theatre, despite this being the format at its very finest. However, one of its characteristics can be the temptation to frighten the audience, to exploit the fact that they find themselves in an alien environment and use it to challenge; I Do doesn’t seek this route. There is conflict and jostling and jumping on beds (and most other accessible articles of furniture) but it is teasing, gentle and, as with many of the highs and lows that all tangle together at a wedding, beneath everything there is love in one form or another.