When I read the description of LL&L in FO (I refuse to type the whole damn thing twice), the first thing that struck me was that dreaded phrase: audience participation. Sure, the plot sounded fine and all – a bunch of villagers revolt against their sadistic dictator. Very Colonel Ghaddafi meets Louis de Bernieres, I though to myself. The screenplay promised a good dose of comedy served just the way I like it; darker than a dark night on an island that’s been let down by Boiler 7.
So why was I unsure whether LL&L in FO was the right production for this weekend’s dose of culture? The reason is simple really. My place is bang within that sector of theatre goers classified under a big, fat Boring. Which is to say that the most participation you will get out of me is a good clap at the end. I’ll go so far as to throw in a Woot if I’m feeling particularly energetic and if the nature of the production requires wooting.
Reasons I don’t believe in audience participation:
1. I go theatre to unwind and not to be put on the spot by some prancing joker who thinks it’s hilarious to challenge me to a singing contest.
2. Sometimes, during a boring bit – and there’s always a boring bit no matter how good the production – I retreat to my own happy place. Do you, as director, really want to call me out on that? Thought not.
3. I’m no actor and the punters haven’t paid good money to be treated to the sight of me looking like a totally self-conscious moron while you desperately try to fit me in your sketch or whatever.
Ergo, audience participation bad. Passive clapping good. Lesson learnt. Except that the guys at Mellowdrama have learnt no such thing. So it was in this cynical frame of mind that I stepped inside the MITP. Watch the audience NOT participating, I told my companion in crime. Companion in crime exercised his right to reserve judgement but was mostly on my same page.
We chose our seats. At the very front. With hindsight, this might have been a mistake. I was busy messing with my mobile phone checking my favorite news site (you know, Facebook) when no less than 3 actors assaulted me. Did I say assaulted? I meant introduced themselves. I’m David, I’m Luke, I’m Justin. It was worse than the first day at school. I huffed and puffed and gave them a resigned smile. It was gonna be *that* kind of evening.
And then Luke, David and Justin ran off and the real thing kicked off. There was dancing and there was catchy music. This was a bit more like it. It’s always easier to accept random molestation if there’s chirpy music in the background. We got a royal couple, we got some villagers doing what they do best (lusting after each other while whining about the unfairness of life), we got the evil feudal lord. And we got a super enthusiastic and genuine cast. It’s difficult to maintain a degree of suspicion when you’re faced with a group of people having fun. The fact that they were in a theatre production seemed almost incidental. In between good natured banter, it was almost like we were in some friends’ living room, taking the piss out of each other.
Which means that when the first audience participation bit hit, it happened so naturally that it barely registered on anyone’s embarrassment-meter. Which, of course, is testament to how comfortable the whole cast was with the play and how easily they made it theirs. The play is two hours long (with a 15 minute interval) and throughout the evening the audience took part in a wedding, a lynching, myriad singalongs and a fully-fledged rebellion. And we had fun doing it. By the end of it, I had learnt these valuable lessons:
1. Audience participation ain’t half bad as long as you get the opportunity to make strategic use of water balloons. And that we definitely did.
2. If the plot is funny enough and the cast good enough, you won’t even notice said participation. It sort of just happens on its own.
3. No matter how bashful an audience might claim to be, you will have to fight them off the stage if you’re unwise enough to put on some catchy hit and invite them to dance. Two seconds into I’ve Got A Feeling, Julia Calvert had some random guy happily dry humping her back for all the world as if it was just another night at Número Uno. To her credit she put on a brave face.
Some highlights from the evening, without giving away too many spoilers:
1. Julia Calvert’s and Jean-Pierre Busuttil’s highly suspect Spanish accents.
2. Giving Gomez, the lord of the village, his rather wet comeuppance.
3. Jo Caruana’s alternately prudish and coy Laurencia.
4. David Chircop’s serenading Frondoso. Pretty priceless stuff, those serenades.
In truth, the whole team gelled pretty well but with the size of the cast no way I’m going to manage to work everyone in. But yes, we all loved you.
Conclusion: I walked out of the MITP with a massive grin on my face. So audience participation can work, but you’d best know what you’re doing. Luckily, these guys did.
LL&L in FO runs this weekend and the next. For tickets visit www.mellowdrama.com.mt or click here
PS- when I mentioned I was writing a review of this play, someone pointed out that all event reviews on my blog – whether related to art, theatre or music – are positive. The reason is simple: this is my personal blog and I do it for my own pleasure. Which means I’ll only write about things that turn me on sufficiently to make me want to write about them voluntarily. So the chances of you reading a review here about something that bored me to tears are very slim. The only exception is if something sucks so bad that it inspires me to go the opposite way and take the piss. But this will happen very rarely. So if you make it on my blog, hey you’re definitely doing something right!