Double- Billed with Elle O Rorke’s ‘Nowhere Warm’, ‘Offending the Audience’ was certainly a deliberate contrast to its predecessor.
As an unwitting participant in Hellman’s exploration of theatre boundaries, I had taken the twenty minute walk onto campus. I had met a friend, and we had taken a further journey, entering the auditorium and placing ourselves amongst other individuals. We had become an audience!
It is hard to criticise a play, which introduces itself with ‘this is no play’. If the four cast members of ‘Offending the Audience’ had no intention to entertain that Wednesday night, then I’m sure they would be delighted to cause any controversy.
Appearing to us without costumes, without props and without specific characters, the actors attempted to enlighten the audience to the role that they play as a collective body within the theatre. Each cast member addressed the audience directly, moving casually amongst them and at one point dragging them down onto the stage itself. The basic message was that without a play to watch, audience members cannot lose themselves in the dramatic plot. When the actors behave unexpectedly and directly engage with the audience face to face, the boundary between the stage and seating and the actors and the audience is broken. Roles are reversed and the actors have a new and unusual power. Audience members become aware of themselves again. They notice the fact that they swallow, the fact that they breathe and the fact that they fidget.
And fidget I did. In fidgeting I was a living demonstration of the ethos of the play. I became bored. The cast were lively; they were energetic and sometimes witty. But because I wasn’t entertained, and the ‘play’ wasn’t a play; the feeling that I was being lectured to set in after about twenty minutes.
However ‘Offending the audience’ was a very brave attempt to do something different. The cast was a particularly confident one; they seemed to be competent actors despite the lack of acting that took place. The director Frank Wolfgang Hellmann was particularly talented in making his audience uncomfortable, running up and down the steps shouting and fixing his victims with an enigmatic stare.
The pace of the piece was sometimes interrupted by small pauses, and might have become more effective as a relentless torrent of monologue. But the lengthy questioning and constant haranguing was clearly and passionately delivered. It might have been possible to deliver a shorter and sharper burst of the play, to increase the effect of the ‘uncomfortableness’. Maybe it would have been fitting to end the play at the point where the audience stepped onto the stage? This was the point where we physically stepped into the traditional domain of the actor and was a particular climax for me.
But overall I believe ‘Offending the Audience’ achieved its aim. The audience was made to feel uncomfortable. If someone shouts at you to ‘stop breathing’ or ‘stop blinking’ you are bound to take a step back or two! By not being able to watch a play, you suddenly realise the qualities needed to shape a play. But without a play you are left feeling a little lost as to what you had actually seen….