Deputy Culture Editor – Film and TV
Live Witness Theatre’s opening production breaks waves
In November, I, along with a sold-out crowd of 120 others, witnessed Live Witness Theatre’s first-ever production Thirty Plays in Sixty Minutes. As opposed to starting life as a theatre company with just the one play (an outrageously conservative idea, I know), Live Witness decided to deliver 30 stand-alone plays within an hour. As a student, I was delighted – I’d be able to say I’d seen 30 plays this week alone and finally fit in amongst the West Enders of Glasgow! No longer would I walk past the A Play, a Pie and a Pint sign outside Oran Mor and be plagued with guilt, due to this rare opportunity I could now walk past pleased with the fact that I was now a theatre-devotee (on average at least). When I was met at the door by the cast, who were all sporting headphones, dancing, and wearing nametags, I was quickly conscious that this show was going to be out of the ordinary in more ways than one.
For context’s sake, Live Witness Theatre is a newly emerging Scottish-based theatre company. The idea behind their enterprise is to “place the audience at the centre of its productions”. Which translates to theatre that breaks the traditional audience-to-performer dynamic which most people are accustomed to. We quickly began to realise that what might have appeared as curious quirkiness to us at the start, was in fact brilliant. For this specific performance, each play was to be delivered in a neo-futurist fashion, meaning there were a few principles for both audience and performers to follow during the show: 1) You are who you are, 2) You are where you are, and 3) You are doing what you are doing.
You’re now probably wondering what all of that means, and how the hell this could possibly make sense to those unacquainted with neo-futurist theatre – which, let’s face it, is nearly everybody.
Yet this issue was easily circumvented by the fact that each audience member was handily given a sheet as they walked in which clearly described all of this, as well giving the titles of the 30 plays. The ensemble cast introduced themselves, the characters they would be playing, and the rules of Thirty Plays in Sixty Minutes. The audience would shout out the number of the play they would like to see, the corresponding number ripped off the back wall, the play would then be performed, then the audience could shout out for which they would like next. This delightfully anarchic system not only worked but shone, rapidly involving the entire audience.
What was impressive was not only the ease with which these abstract principles became understandable, but the courage of the performers in the variety of plays which were performed.
The 30 plays managed to touch upon more genres than any piece of theatre I have, or am, likely to ever see. What was most surprising was the deftness with which each was brought to life. The audience were treated to pieces that were political, comic, tragic, poetic, melodramatic, farcical, and musical, all delivered in a spur-of-the-moment fashion which disguised a great deal of wit as effortless fun.
Political monologues, like the first play of the night Register To Vote, seamlessly transitioned to brief (and in the case of the play My Average Duration in Sexual Intercourse – hilariously brief) pieces. The crowd didn’t show any confusion once the plays got underway, and the self-assurance of the cast in their artistic principles oozed out to every corner of the room. In allowing the audience to pick which plays they wanted to see next, the fundamental structure of a typical play was abandoned. This gave way to an unbridled sense of constant involvement on the audience’s behalf. It was captivating to see theatre where each audience member had a degree of power over the performance’s narrative, and the unusual power to alter other audience members’ experiences.
This didn’t mean that themes wouldn’t subtly reoccur just like they would in a traditionally staged performance. Play titles such as Register To Vote and Four Short Stories that reflect current trends in Urbanisation leant towards the political lens of the collective, whilst plays like Thirty-nine Breaths, where a long breath was dedicated to each of the 39 migrants who tragically suffocated in a truck in East London, boldly used their boundary-crossing format to full political (and emotional) advantage. From stirring confessional pieces, to stand-up comedy, and even to bringing a random audience member on stage for an impromptu date, the carefully-constructed chaos not only triumphed in throwing away theatrical conventions but in legitimately opening-up new possibilities in theatre.
If you want to get your play averages up, Thirty Plays in Sixty Minutes is back at the start of March with a brand-new cast and 30 brand-new plays. However, Live Witness Theatre is moving into new waters in its next scheduled production at the start of February – a devised piece on “justification in a non-justifiable world”. If you think you may be in the mood for boundary-pushing theatre that will make you cry with laughter one moment before swiftly landing a knockout blow the next, I’d keep an eye out for this fine new addition to the Scottish theatre scene.