On Wednesday Week 3 Lancaster Arts at Lancaster University had the privilege of welcoming the established group Quarantine into their facilities to rehearse and preview the latest of their quartet in Autumn.
The group set up in 1998 by Richard Gregory, Renny O’Shea and Simon Banham aims to make theatre with and about everyday people and this is most certainly what they have tried to achieve in this case. With the performance only being a preview, the fully finished show is to be unveiled in March 2016, I had the chance to be part of their audience during their rehearsal process and the progress they made between that point and their preview performance is an indicator of how good the show will be on its official opening.
From the outset the audience were taken into the interval period of Autumn as spiced pumpkin soup and apples were wheeled onto the stage. From then on everything felt very homely. The food warmed your insides and personal monologues from the performers of their past made you feel comfortable around them. I felt this most strongly through Sonia Hughes who seemed to light up the room when she spoke.
The main basis of the piece consisted of the actors and audience working together to tell the story of the world from the beginning of time up until the birth of the youngest members of the audience. The audience really were at the forefront of the piece as they were encouraged to give facts and personal stories. The version of history was very much dependent on them and would so change from one performances to the next. Although this very much fits in with the type of theatre they want to achieve at some points I felt it relied too heavily on audience members. They would be long periods of silence when people didn’t know what to say and it did make me feel that I should go away and read some history books.
However I must mention that a projection board on the back wall of the stage in which illustrations would be typed onto throughout the piece, did encourage you to speak up. Subtitles of what was being said or going on were created and this gave you a greater understanding of what had been covered. It also worked as a great visual element and made the set look beautiful.
The set aesthetically was very pleasing. It helped show that Autumn was an interval period with a minimal stage that consisted of park benches and a tower of cardboard boxes over one half of the stage. Over the course of the performance the benches were removed and the stage managers began individually taking the boxes and putting them into a wall like format on the other side; all within the audiences view. I felt as if this was symbolic of moving from summer to winter, which was really effective. The lighting also stayed at a low level with an orange haze, which helped create the cosy atmosphere associated with Autumn throughout.
With a homely set, illustrations, and actors which made you feel relaxed I feel the piece really managed to replicate a typical autumn day and the feelings that go along with it. The movement of boxes, food and the story of the world also really helped to create a scenario of an interval; however the piece does need to iron a few things out. I feel with an audience integrated in such a way the actual objective of the piece may need to be changed or the way it is conducted may just need more practice so that there aren’t as many unsure and uncomfortable moments from the audience.
But, one must remember that this is a preview and with 30 shows under their belt I’m sure they can achieve this. This is a very complex piece and I really feel that it was a great opportunity for Lancaster University to have such an innovative group in Quarantine experiment their new works with us.