Immer-City: Genuinely Frightening Immersive Theatre

I ventured into darkest Southwark to experience Wyrd, the new play from theatre company Immer-City. Witchcraft and a dislocated shoulder followed.
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I ventured into darkest Southwark to experience Wyrd, the new play from theatre company Immer-City. Witchcraft and a dislocated shoulder followed.

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I had been invited to a séance, and this was all I knew. Meet at the Lord Clyde pub in Southwark at 8.15, and await further instruction. Of course I knew some of the backstory. Immer-City – the immersive theatre company behind Wyrd – have been conducting a fairly extensive viral campaign for the past few months. I had followed the story of newlyweds Joseph and Fiona Warding through Facebook statuses, YouTube videos and blog posts, and so was up to speed with what was going on. I knew that Joseph had been doing some research into his family history, had found his Grandfather had been murdered, and was attempting to contact him from the other side. I knew that he’d hired an enigmatic spiritualist, Dr. Isabella Gaudi – replete with two witch sisters – to help him achieve this. That said, knowing all this, I still had no idea what to expect from the show itself.

So I arrived at the pub, scanning the clientele for the characters I’d already been introduced to, unsure of who was and wasn’t in the play. A bloke at the bar told me he really liked the shirt I was wearing – this has literally never happened before in my life, so I assumed he was an actor, turns out he wasn’t and was just a nice bloke (it was from Howies, by the way, and had a button missing). Then Joseph came over and began to detail his family history for me, whilst I was sat chatting to an old gent about the benefits of a Moleskine notebook in the pub – incidentally, this old gent, lovely though he was, wasn’t having any of this performance, and Geraint Hill who played Joseph dealt impeccably with his “are you an actor? Is this a play? What’s all this about?” enquiries. I was then introduced to Joseph’s wife, Fiona – played by Victoria Jane Appleton – who seemed altogether more cynical about the whole event, and finally Ethan – played by Sam Trueman – who seemed...well, he seemed like a bit of a twat, if I’m honest, but I think that’s what he was going for.

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And then things started to happen. Conversations turned to arguments, pockets of exposition were dropped. A mute witch came up and stared me down for a good 5 minutes, whilst another read tarot cards on a bench outside the pub. The aforementioned Dr. Gaudi did her best to marshal the crowd into some semblance of order, but by the same score, there was a pleasing degree of disorder and chaos to these opening exchanges – rather than it feeling like you were just watching a play outside, it was more as if you’d stumbled into the play itself, like you probably shouldn’t be there at all. Conceptually, it was right on the money. If that opening falls flat, then the whole “immersive” pitch doesn’t work, and the play is ruined. Huge credit to director Rosanna Mallinson for pulling this off.

The audience were then escorted across the road to what was, for all intents and purposes, an abandoned building, so, already a little creepy. The tarot-reading witch from before took us down to a wine cellar, where the séance was to take place, and slowly the room filled up, the actors taking their seats amongst the crowd, and the second act, essentially, began. This is where the show really took off. Candles were snuffed out, darkness filled the room, subliminal sounds and smells were pumped in to really play havoc with your mind – I swore I could hear wind blowing throughout, apparently this was just me. The whole experience was genuinely frightening and incredibly physical, involving audience participation which, at one point, caused my shoulder to pop out of its socket (it does that all the time, don’t worry, but it still hurt). Again, conceptually the show hit every mark, and as the narrative became darker and more occult (reluctant to give too much away, but suffice it say, it gets pretty dark and pretty occult), the feeling of guilt and complicity was palpable.

All theatre is a high-wire act, this play more than most. One wrong move and the performance is on the floor before you know it. I felt as if there were a few times when the show lost its balance – tonally I thought Dr. Gaudi was played too corporate, a marketing analyst delivering a lecture rather than the macabre, manipulative figure I was expecting. The script too could have been stronger – it was as if a lot of effort had been spent on making the language incredibly poetic, which then jarred with the more colloquial nature of the improvised and devised sections. However, these are trips, not falls. Overall the show delivers exactly what it set out to do and was a unique, thrilling experience, one that I’m likely to see again, and would recommend that you do too.

Wyrd runs from 4-19 May with two shows per evening, before heading to Edinburgh for the Fringe. Tickets must be bought in advance as there is an extremely limited capacity. To catch up on the story so far head to the Immer-City website: http://www.immer-city.com/wyrdtickets.html