Follow Closely

Forget deconstructing the fourth wall - promenading, site-specific theatre gets bums out of seats and traipsing round the streets in and amongst the actors.

Feature by Marcie Hume | 16 Apr 2006
At Glasgow Queen Street station I searched desperately for an angel. I'm not a big fan of angels or their associated metaphors, but it was supposed to be taking my ticket. There was no-one around who fit the bill so I found myself staring at strangers standing alone, wondering if they were lost too.

This is where site-specific theatre lands you, in the centre of uncertainty, waiting for a story to unfold but not knowing which corner it will appear from. The landscape of the train station and all its patrons are the background of the action that could start at any minute.

Once I find the angel, the audience of ten are led to the lost baggage room where we sit huddled, watching out the window with our leader as he sets his eyes on the heroine of the evening. He tells us all his gritty feelings of wanting her, needing her, seeing her every move as flawless. But she doesn't see us watching through the window.

And then, after she glances at us over her shoulder, we are off. Every time he moves somewhere new and strange we all tag along. We had come to see a play after all, so of course we'll follow this stranger. It hardly feels like theatre, but more like an adventure. We trust out guide out of necessity and gleefully act like his Glaswegian street gang, huddling around to protect him.

It's the kind of feeling that groups of people usually drink to achieve, to feel more in the action, to try and engage more fully and pointedly with what's around them. It's all potential, not knowing what will happen but knowing that you will be there for it.

Standing close, he keeps telling us his secrets. It isn't awkward but more like an ideal, like we are getting the inside story and we are all the more enlightened for it. We stand with him on a street corner looking for the girl: we see her everywhere, or we think we do, as we glare across the street into pubs, knowing she is somewhere nearby. It's cold on the street, searching for her. And suddenly it seems plain that men can feel the loss of rejection and the real hope in someone else's perfection that women don't always believe they can feel.

We move through a bar where we watch our hero from overhead, then down into the underground. People look at us strangely but we just look back at them, not knowing who is an actor and who isn't. It's too bizarre for people to dare bother us or interrupt. We are on an exciting mission that none of the people standing around know about; we smile at one another and lean in closer to find out what's next.

There are some pitfalls to theatre like this, however. Because it's so intimate, like standing on stage with the actors, it works best if the performers possess an acute aptitude for realism, which is tough to find. 'Falling' also devolves slightly as its demonic themes become apparent, exemplified when a goth-inclined theatre kid happily overacts the idea of hellfire being breathed into my hair while inadvertently tripping me from behind. But at promenading theatre you can always run away to the other side of the audience and look at something else.

This project, produced by Poorboy and based at The Arches, is supported by the National Theatre of Scotland who is backing all kinds of new projects that break the mould of traditional bum-in-a-seat, eyes-on-the-stage performances. The kind of plays where the actors tell you not to watch and you have to decide what you'll rest your eyes on. Work like this bridges the gap between classical notions of theatre and the unrefined experience of it, the sensation of closely following, for better or worse, someone else's life.
The Arches, Glasgow, until April 15.