Theatre Company: Restless Theatre
Cast: Richard Knox, Becky Louise, Sarah McCourt, Ritchie Crane, Louis John Brzozka
Plot: As a train nears the end of the line, a jovial train conductor (Knox) navigates boredom, unruly passengers and his own insecurities.
I love theatre that pushes itself to think outside of the box. While Network Tales only slightly embraces the immersive side of theatre, what it does do is rethink what a theatre space should be. Upon entering the traditional theatre space, Richard Knox, the main actor and train conductor of the piece, bounds up collecting the audience’s tickets and stamping them off as one would collecting tickets on a train. Then the actors assemble on the stage, made up of chairs spaced in the shape of a train carriage. The play continues for a few beats and then the train hits its first stop. The conductor proceeds to turn to the audience and ask anyone’s whose tickets say that this is their stop, board the train. Suddenly, the audience aren’t watching the play from the outside, but are actually sitting there with the actors, in the same space. Because of the nature of the tickets, the audience members who get to sit inside the train constantly shifts and changes. The heat of the action sees a bustling train, the more bodies building more atmosphere; the quieter moments the carriage is emptier, allowing a stronger sense of intimacy. The space constantly evolves throughout the piece, so even when the entire show is set in the same narrow set-up, it feels new and refreshed every few scenes. The audience are given a brand new theatre sensation when inside the train as well. It really does build the idea that there is a bustling world all around you. As both you and the actors are packed into this space like sardines, important plot points happen a few inches away from you. An argument between Sarah McCourt’s and Ritchie Crane’s couple can break out right next to you, the kind of awkward situation that genuinely happens on a train. The sense of realism becomes Network Tales strong identity. There are downsides to this inventive formula however. Depending on where you are sat, you could miss a lot of the action. Louis John Brzozka’s Mr. Business is sat in the far left carriage for example, those sat on the opposite side of the carriage are going to struggle to see what is going on with that character. It depends on how happy you are listening and ‘feeling’ the story, rather than watching it unfold. Those not prepared for the immersion of Network Tales, might feel cheated. But those wanting an immersive experience might also feel that Restless Theatre could have pushed a few ideas further. For example, in the lobby, where the audience are waited to be seated, actor Louis John Brzozka can be found, sat in the corner, massive backpack beside him, waiting for his train. That is a brilliant piece of direction, but why not take it further? Dress the lobby like a passenger lounge, have more of the actors bustling around in that space. There is this sense that Restless Theatre have a good idea at their fingertips, but need to reach out and grasp it within their hand.
But theatre troupes aside, a good show is nothing without the content. The story the audience are sat in a train to watch is essentially a day in the life of Richard Knox’s cheery train conductor. As moody teenager Becky Louise discovers, he has a irresistible knack of making the best of any given situation. As a way of alleviating the boredom of being trapped in the train, he imagines the passenger’s back story. Louis John Brzozka’s backpacker is given his own murder mystery story as Knox tries to figure out whose ashes are in his mysterious urn. As McCourt and Crane fall out during the train journey, Knox imagines fixing their fractured relationship. Whenever we enter Knox’s imagination, the mood changes. Noir music kicks in, the lighting becomes more surreal… suddenly the realism is abandoned for the surreal workings of the thought process of the conductor. The imagination sequences hold some of the show’s best moments. A highlight reel of Crane’s wooing of McCourt is told using several popular video games (Tekken, Pacman, The Sims, Pokemon Go), to a laugh-out-loud response. The murder of Mr. Australia’s mother is amazingly paced for the maximum reaction. The one time the fantasy world could be argued to become a tad too much is an extensive stint in a superhero parody where a lot of the big reveals of the conductor’s characters are drawn out. It would have been nice to have had these moments in the quieter train carriage scenes, although that is a question of specific audience preference. The story has enough kick to keep you enthralled and all the actors have charisma. That being said, their last production gave everyone much more to do. Becky Louise is quietly brilliant, but anyone that has seen the actress outside this project knows she is capable of doing this role in her sleep. Louis John Brzozka is asked to character hop quite often, so the actor, despite his best efforts, cannot quite get an arc rolling as strongly as we want it to. Richard Knox, as ever, is a show stealer, asked to use his dripping charisma to hold the audience’s attention, much like he did with Othello, but instead of being a despicable villain, he is tasked with doing the same trick as the world’s nicest guy. It is a credit to the actor that he squeezes the same amount of fun from the role. But perhaps it doesn’t need the powerful performances here; this is a quieter story than Othello and pleasantly trundles along, the touching emotional reveals quiet affairs that gently pull at the heartstrings rather than tearing them open. If anything it proves that Restless Theatre can do both…
Final Verdict: Restless Theatre try their hand at interactive theatre, throwing the audience into the thick of their heart-warming story.