The Train

Andrew Quick & Peter Brooks
imitating the dog
Lancaster Arts, Lancaster University

Laura Atherton as Amy with Matt Prendergast in The Train at Lancaster University Credit: Rory Howson

Is it a play? Is it a train? Actually, it’s the latest ‘performance work’ by imitating the dog, the Lancaster-based theatre creators whose defiance of convention even extends to Their Name...

This time they apply their digital, sound and design skills to an immersive theatrical venture that takes audiences, of just 12 at a time, on a 40-minute train journey in a cramped and initially blacked-out carriage.

Our discomfort is nothing, however, compared to that of central character Amy (Laura Atherton) who walks through more train carriages, or could it be a dreamscape, while projected images of exchanges with her analyst (Matt Prendergast) play out on the carriage walls.

A third character (Morven Macbeth) has a walk-on role as The Woman—and the kind of dramatic exit you might expect with her surname...

Meanwhile a narrator—heard through our individual radio headphones—suggests the whole train may just be some kind of a metaphor for individual reality. Perhaps The Train of Thought so memorably captured by cinema’s Inside Out?

What it actually adds up to is sensory overload, being hauled by the under-powered locomotion of a plot that cannot transfix its audience.

Not for the first time with imitating the dog’s output, there’s the strong suspicion that it’s the technology that’s pushing the production rather than any clear narrative that’s pulling.

The technique used, and the digital synchronisation with actors, is always impressive. When a ‘real’ gun is fired, there’s ‘virtual’ blood spatter on the wall behind. Our compartment swings and sways between side-on and straight-on views of the railway carriage. But it’s almost quaint that stage curtains still separate the scenes.

Theme parks the world over have entire auditoriums that do all this so much better. Some can even add the un-nerving dimension of touch. And they certainly don’t break the spell by revealing how it’s all done at the final curtain.

This Train is not really on the right track.

Reviewer: David Upton