Tuesday 28 March 2017

Passenger review

Immersive theatre performances seem to be growing in Melbourne, and I could not be more thrilled about this. The latest offering devised by Jessica Wilson, Ian Pidd and Nicola Gunn is Passenger, a show that takes place on a moving bus that drives us through the streets of Southbank and the Docklands where we observe two strangers strike up a conversation.

It all begins innocently enough, but as the trip progresses the conversation steers towards something darker and sinister that culminates in a highly intense and somewhat surreal ending. Gunn's text drip-feeds information to us and the way that earlier shared stories or anecdotes are used to bring it all full circle are clever, surprising and make full use of the local infrastructure to build on the environment and tone of the story.

Throughout the performance, the composition by Tom Fitzgerald is perfectly matched to the progression of the story and the scenery and landmarks that are passed. The soundtrack initially evokes a sense of adventure and journeying into the unknown and turns more suspenseful and uncertain the further we delve into these people’s lives.

Given that we are audience members in an immersive show, there are a number of times where things happening outside the bus leave us questioning if they are actually part of the performance. From the busker on the corner to the two people jumping excitedly by their bikes to the man in the cowboy hat who seems to be everywhere, we're never quite sure if these people are actors or if we are creating a world for these two passengers to exist in.

There's an intentional ambiguity to Passenger on whether we have been complicit in what has transpired or simply innocent audience members and the same thoughts arise when you take these issues from the play and put them out into the real world. Passenger is theatre that makes you conscious of just how powerful - or powerless – people can be in creating change for the better.

Passenger was presented by Arts Centre Melbourne and Footscray Community Arts Centre between 23 - 25 March 2017.

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