Chrysalis/The Factory

As immersive theatre becomes increasingly popular, the Royal Exchange Theatre Young Company bring a very original and different experience to the Swan Street Studio.  The Factory sees a large part of the building transformed into a commercial enterprise – Chrysalis – that produces ethically sourced food and cosmetics.  However the truth is much deeper.

Structured as much like a book as a play, this is a production that slowly peels away the superficial layers of the corporate image to reveal the dystopian truth of the organisation.  Starting with ‘security’ checks at the entrance, we then move on to a slick product introduction, complete with ‘tastings’.   It’s a slow pace but remarkably consistent, and although an interesting choice it works very well.  Each scene is set in a department (marketing, motivation, product handling), presented by one to three members of the Young Company.  We work our way down the building, the production centred around the stairwell, slowly understanding what is really going on here.  If I have a criticism it is that I wanted more.  You’re allocated to a department at the start but this isn’t followed through during the performance.  I’d like to have understood more about the actual processes in the factory.

But each scene is effective, well presented, and well structured to reveal more about the truth.  In particular, the feeling of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ is convincingly built throughout the tour.  The most powerful scenes – in the wellbeing centre and in the cleaner’s room – happen at the end, heightening emotional impact.

For immersive theatre to work, two things must be satisfied.  First, the building itself must be a character.  Second, the transitions between scenes must be convincing and never take you out of the experience.  On both these points, this production scores very highly.  By using the claustrophobic areas around the stairwells, there is a real feeling of being drawn into something very deeply hidden; the corridors lend themselves well to isolated, disjointed, departments.  And the transitions are really well handled, managing changes in location, character and pace effectively.

In the end it’s a very original, thought provoking and convincing performance.  This is an ambitious and memorable production that yet again shows what young people can achieve with the support of a professional theatre.

The Factory was performed from 24 – 27 August 2016.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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