The Way Out

Suri Krishnamma, Nichola Mark Harding and Omid Djalili
Battersea Arts Centre and BBC Arts
BBC4 and BBC iPlayer
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The Way Out
The Way Out
The Way Out

Immersive theatre and promenade productions are an acquired taste. Audiences may be deterred by the tone of improvisation, the high level of participation or potential physical discomfort that may be involved. The broadcast of The Way Out directed by Suri Krishnamma offers the opportunity to sample an immersive show without any of the perceived drawbacks and so may stimulate interest in the real thing.

Previous productions under the Beeb’s occasional ‘Performance Live’ series have been recordings of live performances. The Way Out differs in that it is clearly a film but very much a ‘live’ event, filmed in a single continuous, unbroken shot taking viewers along gothic corridors—“A maze that amazes”. The effect is to put the viewer in the position of someone walking around the Battersea Arts Centre in the twilight and learning life lessons along the way. Regular attendees at immersive theatre shows will be familiar with the technique whereby audiences become part of the action. The Way Out, however, offers the considerable advantage of avoiding the technical lapses and time delays that tend to occur during live promenade productions.

It is doubtful, however, that the average immersive show could afford the involvement of Omid Djalili. There is the possibility the show has been put together to showcase examples of the cream of the crop; a kind of ‘greatest hits’ of performance artists and improvisers with Djalili as a link between them. Certainly, his involvement is a blessing as the script (co-written by Suri Krishnamma with Nichola Mark Harding and Djalili) sounds profound but, when examined, tends to be a bit shallow with frequent life-affirming messages like “All the wonders are within you.” Djalili cheerfully points out the contradictions in the occasionally heavy-handed speeches. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s belief it is the journey not reaching the destination that matters would have made him a rotten bus driver and brought him into conflict with Neil Armstrong, who probably felt arrival was more important.

The performance opens as a silent Outsider (Bláithín Mac Gabhann) seeks shelter from the rain and stumbles into Battersea Arts Centre. The show is very youth orientated with the Outsider also referred to as The Young Person as if to suggest youth has the monopoly on alienation. He encounters a Guide (Djalili) who steers him physically around the Centre and helps prepare him mentally to make his exit.

There is no obvious link between the various acts encountered during the journey. Lucy McCormick’s song suggests rain is an agent of change and, as such, is not to be feared and Sanah Ahsan’s scorching poetry draws attention to the value of learning to forgive oneself. In the main, however, The Way Out serves as a sample of the rich variety of performance art available including Botis Seva‘s tortured falling / twisting choreography and Le Gateau Chocolat‘s remarkable vocal range that makes his song “‘Liminal” sound alien in nature.

A nagging fear is that the broadcast will expose my weaknesses as a reviewer. Immersive theatre and performance art are not that popular so in the past one could be confident that vagueness in reviews would not be spotted as audiences tend to be sparse. Broadcasting the show online means it is open to a much wider audience so now readers have the chance to try something new and see if you agree.

Reviewer: David Cunningham