Photo by Jess Zlotnick
When I think of terror I think of my year 8 drama teacher. The only rule of improv is that you need to say yes. I think of lights. Of sweat. Of awkward ice-breakers that leaned on the frail crutch of alliteration and fell with dull thuds. You just need to say yes and add something interesting.
On the 9th of February SUDS premiered Weathervane, an interactive murder mystery performed for a one-person audience. For fifteen terrifying minutes, I was that one person. Lights dimmed. Sweat dripping. A hand reached out from behind the stage and pulled me into another room. Another, another. Until finally, the first question in a series was put to me. “What is your name, recruit?” “Um, Diane? Detective Diane?”
At first, I answered only out of politeness. Single syllables. Lines from CSI Miami. Soon however, I realized that the hand initially pulling me onto the set belonged to a truly inspired character, the Detective played by Jess Zlotnick. Zlotnick somehow managed to perform both at me and with me. Both narrator and character. By the third scene I knew, without a doubt, that Zlotnick was the accelerator of the play, and that I would speed along its trajectory so long as she was with me. Zlotnick, like all the actors in Weathervane, said yes to each scene with such gusto that soon enough, I too found myself saying yes in return.
At its simplest Weathervane is just a fifteen-minute improv session. The one-on-one audience interaction could have been gimmicky. Through the sheer commitment of the cast, however, the play is elevated higher. The intensity of the cast is undeniably something the audience feels they must match and in doing so, they are then forced to suspend their disbelief in a far more active way than any goers of traditional theatre might, with their passive viewing and consumption of overpriced choc tops. This I felt led to a richer theatre experience. After all, what is the point of theatre if not to better understand things from another’s consciousness?
I have only one qualm with the play. To begin, Weathervane focused only on the visceral, leading the audience into a deep, black labyrinth with creepy props. As the play moved on however it began jolting to moments of deep rumination about truth and perspective and whether “the act of killing is always murder.” Perhaps, in a longer show such a contrast could exist comfortably. In this fifteen-minute play however, the contrast felt awkward. Even the namesake metaphor, the Weathervane, confused me.
It would however be unfair to criticise SUDS’ attempts at symbolism and soliloquies too harshly. After all, the creative team followed the rules of improv. They said yes and then tried to add something interesting. And the speeches on death were, if considered nothing else, admittedly interesting.
At the end of the fifteen minutes, I stumbled upon the final set. It was made of gasping blackness and hundreds of strobe lights. Here it made sense to be fearless. I pointed the gun at the Chief Constable. I fired. The strobe lights started to go and I ran out of the Cellar Theatre, pumping my fist and shouting “rave, rave, rave!”
The interactive play left me oddly empowered and livened.
Ready to say yes again and again and again.