It is the height of a World War and the Cote family are all too aware of the looming threat of bombings and death. On this particular evening however, it is revelations and betrayals that risk derailing the lives of these eight people. Presented as part of Midsumma Festival, TBC Theatre's immersive production Rust, lets the audience choose their own adventure by following the characters whose story they find interesting and discover which of them will live through the night.
The most difficult aspect of immersive theatre, where you are free to wander around the venue and pursue whichever character you wish, is ensuring that whatever path the audience takes, they can still put the pieces together by the end. With Rust, creator and writer, Vaughn Rae, and co-writer Sophie Joske have carefully constructed a recognisable narrative that we can comfortably follow but with plenty of mystery and suspense that builds towards a satisfying conclusion.
The show is perfectly suited in the spacious Eildon House at Alliance Francaise Melbourne, which was built 150 years ago. Along with Daniel Moulds' set design - particularly with the "bunker" and outdoor areas - and Carletta the Great's costuming, you feel as if you have been transported back in time as the environment gradually envelops your senses.
I approach Rust by sticking with three characters who I perceive to have intriguing individual stories and who share a number of scenes. Gabriel Partington arouses curiosity as a soldier who is torn between his allegiance to his country and his devotion to his heart. Sarah Hartnell and Shae Kelly are fascinating as a husband and wife in love, just not with each other. The layout of the property conveniently allows you to watch one scene while being able to poke your head around a corner or peek through a window and see another playing out, and knowing who has interacted with who helps keep track of everything that's unfolding.
There are instances
where the performances lean into melodrama with screaming, shouting and angry
voices, which are unnecessary given our close proximity to the actors. Focusing on the more nuanced depiction of such emotions would heighten the intensity and draw the audience further in to these people's plight. The opening moments also need to be clearer with when the audience can explore. This uncertainty led audiences to walk upstairs when they're not supposed to and running after characters only to have the door close on them and instructed to return to the main hallway.
This aside, Rust will not disappoint fans of immersive theatre. It's a unique experience to stand mere metres away from actors as they perform, and even getting caught up in the action at times. We may be familiar with the structure of forbidden loves and espionage stories, but Rust has some surprises up its sleeve so we never know what secrets will be revealed in the next room and who - if anyone - will survive unscathed.
Click here for my interview with Vaughn Rae and Sarah Hartnell
Venue: Alliance Française Melbourne, 51 Grey St, St Kilda
Season: until 9 February | Tues - Sun 7:30pm, Sat 5pm
Tickets: $40 Full | $35 Conc
Bookings: Midsumma Festival
Image Credit: Jessica Jeanfield