Telling stories with imagination.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Metta likes... Intimacy

Great as it is to see large scale epics, with giant sweeping sets and dozens of actors (Marianne Elliott's Women Beware Women at the National was a brilliant example of this type of theatre), there is something truly magical about an intimate theatre experience. We love theatre that is so close that you can see the dust and smell the sweat.

Last week I saw Saturn Returns at the Finborough. It had a great script and fantastic performances, but one of the things that lent it real power was the close proximity of the audience to the action. The story was a deeply personal one, showing the same man at three different stages in is life at three different crisis points with three different women. Much of the script was the personal reflections of the main character, much of the action was his memories.

The Finborough is only 50 seats, and the playing area is a small one. With the brilliant design from Bec Chippendale, of a careful recreation of a flat, this meant that we were all together in the main protagonist's home, sharing intimately in his anguish. Having the audience this close means they can see every detail of each performance, and gives the actors the space to play emotion smaller and with more detail, rather than the broad brush strokes a larger space would demand.

At the extreme end of the intimacy scale was one of the performances at Theatre Deli's recent Theatre Souk, Matador, which Poppy mentioned in a previous post. Here there was a maximum audience of 10, in a room which can't have been more that 4m by 4m. The performer stood in the middle of the circle and looked each member of the audience in the eye, addressing them directly and thoroughly engaging with them as people. It was an intense and thrilling experience, never being quite sure what he might want from you, keeping your focus absolutely on him.

After our last few productions, which have played in 150 seat venues, it's exciting to have a show which can only seat 20. The Man with the Flower in his Mouth is truly intimate, with 20 actually being a bit of a squeeze in the delightful London Particular café. I feel that the intimacy helps to draw us into the world of the man, and that the audience being close enough to see the detail of everything he pulls from his pockets, and every badge on his jacket, adds to the experience.

It's the kind of thing that stops being possible when you have larger numbers, or larger spaces. There you can achieve the epic, but the intimate is inevitably lost. Are there any productions where the intimacy has worked particularly well? Or even shows which I've missed out on - larger shows which still manage to create an intimate feel?

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