"For those who love Punchdrunk"
by Owen Kingston for remotegoat on 15/04/16

There are far too many productions labelling themselves as 'immersive' that do far too little to deserve the label. On the one hand there are the giants of the genre whose work is truly visionary, on the other there are companies presenting work that amounts to little more than conventional theatre with a bit of random taxidermy.

Immersive experiences, good ones at least, can be insanely popular. But there are enough bad productions out there, or productions that simply aren't that immersive, for fans of the genre to be rightly wary. Word of mouth is important, and honest and trustworthy reviewing even more so if the 'immersive ecosystem' is to remain healthy and grow sustainably.

Fans of the genre eyeing Sedos's production "Such Stuff as dreams are made on" - an immersive Shakespearean adventure drawing heavily on the Tempest - may very well be wary of the idea of an Am-Dram group attempting a large scale immersive production. After all, when experienced professional companies who are experts in this sort of work struggle to produce something of consistent brilliance, what hope is there for a bunch of amateurs?

To label the team behind "Such Stuff..." a bunch of amateurs would be to do them a colossal disservice. Sedos have poured an enormous amount of work into this, their first foray into the world of immersive theatre. Their set, occupying 15,000 square feet of office space in the heart of London's Docklands, has been constructed with remarkable attention to detail that puts some professional companies to shame, and the dramatic content and execution of the show itself has clearly received a similar level of attention.

Perhaps most encouragingly, the production is a free-roaming experience - similar in many ways to Punchdrunk's signature style - certainly not the easiest immersive format to imitate but one of the most rewarding for an audience to enjoy. Usually comparisons with Punchdrunk - perhaps the greatest giant of the genre - end badly for the imitator, but for Sedos the comparison is a largely favourable one.

To be clear, this production is far from flawless. Audiences should not expect work on a par with Punchdrunk's recent masterpieces, in fact to harbour such expectations could only lead to disappointment. But the spiritual connection to the ethos of their work is clear, and Sedos manage to capture similar moments of brilliance through some remarkable individual performances.

Nevertheless there are flaws. Small things mostly, but they add up. The lighting is often just a little too bright to create that magical witching-hour feeling for which Punchdrunk's productions have become famous, and while the set itself is generally speaking quite remarkable, there is rather too much unfortunate light-spill onto areas that have not received the utmost level of care and attention. Too many well lit office ceiling tiles, for example, provide an unwelcome jolt back to reality. The performances are also not universally stellar. Perhaps this is to be expected from what is, after all, an amateur company, but so much about this production demands to be judged at a professional level, and the audience experience is a delicate thing, easily upset by an actor too eager for attention.

But where it works this show can be truly magical, and it works in a great many places. There are some performances that are truly spellbinding, and one-on-one interactions between audience and performer that are beautiful and captivating. There are performers here with profound talent who will draw you into their world in spite of any distractions you may encounter along the way. There is also tremendous depth to the storytelling - far too much to take in in one sitting - and while the story is difficult to follow (as is necessarily the case with this sort of free-roaming non-linear work) it is clear that there is plenty of meaning to be found, even if it might take several viewings to wrap one's head around everything that is going on.

For fans of the genre, particularly Punchdrunk fans, you can do (and probably have done) a lot worse. For a lot more money. There are professional companies whose attempts at 'immersive' theatre are appalling by comparison. If you long for detailed sets to explore, fascinating characters to follow, and the visceral experience of choosing your own destiny - allowing your bearing to shape your fate - then this production is for you. If you are able to take what is offered in a generous spirit, turning a blind eye to the occasional distraction, and venture forth into a world that has been lovingly created for you to explore, then you will have a truly magical time.

But be warned, this production is criminally short-lived. In under two weeks it will be gone forever, so do not delay. For my own part, I have already rebooked, and fully intend on making a third, fourth and possibly even fifth journey if I can free up enough evenings in the coming week. There is a good chance you will be fighting with me for the remaining tickets. I intend to win. What better recommendation is there than that?

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