One By One

BRONTE PHILIPS dares to explore this innovative piece of theatre where only one audience member is required.

ADC Corpus fourth wall one by one The Eagle

Corpus Playroom, Monday 11th November, 7.30pm, £6/5

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It all sounded a bit too vague and hardcore thespian for me. One by One defines itself as a production in denial of not only the fourth wall (and, as it turned out, any wall at all), but of its very state as ‘theatre’, claiming to only require one audience member, with the tagline stating, “They’re just talking. And you’re just listening. One by One”. Sceptical and wracked with the terrifying suspicion that this may entail some kind of involvement/public humiliation, I headed to Corpus Playrooms bracing myself for a night of thorough wall-smashing.

Receiving a call from the reception desk on behalf of ‘ADC Radio’ asking me questions about my sexual history, it soon became half clear what exactly I’d signed myself up for during that fateful Tab meeting – there was not going to be any seating problems in this performance. In truth, it was more ‘experience’ than performance; the various ‘scenes’ playing out as a series of radically different scenarios, weaving from centre stage down into the labyrinths of Corpus’ backstage, through smoking corners, alleyways, binsheds, until finally permitted to settle in the beer garden of The Eagle for a cool pint to settle the shell-shock. As it turns out, it was to be well-deserved.

Yet the content turned out to be even more surprising and varied than the geography. Just as I was pushed and pulled into different rooms and corridors, I was to be forced into hugely contrasting and frequently baffling encounters with the characters (or audience members? Who knows); dragged from ‘auditioner’ to ‘auditionee’, from bitchfest to crime scene by a cast dedicated to deadpan delivery and formidable improv skills. Individual performances would be duly noted, if there were actual character roles to be remarked upon…

If only for being able to react to my somewhat stubborn and difficult contributions to the drama (claiming to be a serial killer perhaps not an altogether typical reaction) the entire production team deserves the applause they didn’t receive. Whilst naturally with an improvisation piece paradoxically requiring an intense degree of planning and timing, there were to be errors and Plans B, C and D – errors which further planning and practice could have resolved. However, none caused a collapse of character nor overshadowed the gutsy technicality of the piece.

Mime, multiple frames of action and edible props were all effective in keeping it fresh and the ‘audience’ on its toes, throwing them into reacting with the ‘scene’ alongside configuring where and what exactly they’d been transported into now. Personal scenario highlights included attempting to resolve two streams of bitching-sessions simultaneously – highlights included discovering I’d murdered my girlfriend (she was a slut, anyway), James the bin man’s “vivacious” after party and performing somewhat saucily my preferred vowel sound (it’s ‘O’, in case you were wondering).

Did One by One achieve their objective, or was I left floundering in a lurch of thespian madness? The fourth wall laid in waste at the threshold of The Eagle, the ‘audience’ trickling in one by one, a question hummed about us like an existentialist refrain: “Is it real now?”

Congratulations, ‘One By One’, cast and audience, whoever you may be. Was the surreptitious writing of a phone number on my hand a necessary part of this vibrant demolition, or a rather nifty chat up attempt? Who knows. But, unnervingly, I’m pretty sure it’s real…