Kick-starting New Theatre’s Uncut Season was Tread Softly, an engaging collection of monologues performed with an improvisational twist. Despite what the title suggests, audience members were encouraged to jump knee deep into the action. Telling the tales of the people behind the art, either personifying the art itself or taking on the role of its creator, Tread Softly proved to be a promising start for New Theatre’s Uncut venture.
An interesting feeling of suspicion took over upon entering The Den, at a glance the scene appeared no different to the usual cluster of students one would expect to find, yet an array array of activity ensued. When approaching each group we faced the task of establishing the difference between actor and audience, which in turn made it hard to resist crossing the line between observer and participant as we were drawn into the performer’s art world. You could weave in and out of the various acts, and enter a new scene as and when the action would catch your eye, the characters acknowledged you immediately almost as if they were competing with the others for your attention, willing you to stay.
Creating the impression of being in an art gallery, director Will Warren and producer Lydia Scott’s decision to make use of a promenade stage set up gives the audience a sense of freedom, which was a refreshing change from sitting quietly in a blacked out theatre for the duration of a performance. Through the night we meet one photographer (Eloise Hyde) painting a better picture of the images she takes than the photographs themselves; two living sculptures (Alix Hattenstone, 0Sangeeta Jheinga) tired of being ignored and wanting to live the extravagant life of their owners; three struggling actors (Matthew Miller, Eve Wersocki Morris, Tom Sheldon) proving more interesting characters than those they so desperately try to portray; and a lonely children’s author (Olivia Hattenstone) who will happily work with children and animals over her peers. However, due to the unrestricted nature of the performance other audience members may have also encountered the likes of film maker (Mathew Llewellyn) and disc jockey (William Warren) and learnt the secrets of their trades. By the end of the night every audience member would have had a different experience, which in someways made the experience more exciting and unique, but could also be at the expense of missing one or more of the performances on offer.
As audience members we were encouraged to ask questions and join in with the actors (at one point I found myself breaking into dance with the ‘sculptures’) and although some may and in fact did feel slightly uncomfortable with this direct address, by the end of the interaction it was hard not to have formed a bond with the character stood in front of you. I found myself promising one of the sculptures that I would come back to see them, and, after I had left I felt slightly guilty that I had forgotten.
With a mix of established and devised monologues, the cast successfully showcased a variety of different styles, comic and tragic, switching between conversational and physical theatre pieces. Tread Softly signals a change of direction for the New Theatre and definitely demonstrates exciting things to come in the external season.