Broken Loops is an inventive attempt to create an interactive promenade performance, but Rolemop Theatre’s staging of it isn’t quite as slick as it could be. Their choice of story is also an odd one – it doesn’t quite all come together, but this may be an issue with this style of piece, rather than with specific choices made in this instance. In either case, their reliance on audience stooges is an unfortunate crutch, and the unrehearsed nature of their involvement meant that the whole piece lagged further. Interesting, but I’m unsure as to whether this is a concept worth pursuing.
The play (and I use the term loosely) is about a mother and daughter reconnecting after the mother has lost her memory. I think. If part of the experience was to show how random and strange memory can be, this certainly covered it. We were ushered into a pub environment by a short promenade piece that did little to elucidate the story, and it was explained, as we all found perches, that the various lit objects (in separate spotlights) would start a scene if touched. Soon enough, objects were being touched, and short scenes about the object start to tangentially introduce the mother and daughter characters.
I hope that sounds as impenetrable as it was to experience – it took quite a while for me to get into gear with the production, and it never really seemed to gel quite as well as they had hoped. The scenes themselves elucidate very little, and the seeming random nature of what different people would hit, touch or peer into made it even harder to follow any semblance of plot that might have been written. At one point, a condom machine was pressed twice in a row, and the second scene just seemed to be both characters looking at each other with little to say – to be honest, I’m not sure how you’d write a piece with that many variants anyway, but the whole thing seemed to fall down rather abruptly. When an object was touched, the scene was accompanied by a video projection – and the quality on these was very high, but again I didn’t understand what they were symbolising, as I couldn’t really follow the plot.
Now, the organisers were clearly worried about people touching the objects, because the Internet has been awash with their requests for audience members to come and take part – push a button or touch an object if no-one else is doing so. I don’t mind the use of stooges, but there’s a greater issue at play here: why do you need stooges? Surely the idea of interactive theatre is that people want to take part, want to see what they can instigate. I would contend that Rolemop may have missed the point a little with Broken Loops – by ushering people into a space where everything you touch sets off a scene (often with you involved), people become unnerved and refuse to leave their seats. There’s a conceptual flaw here that needs to be addressed if they want to take this concept further.
Also, there needs to be a vibrant, exciting and interesting plot, at least one that can be quickly followed. A mother and daughter duo where one may or may not have lost her memory is just not enough of a hook – and an old dilapidated pub is probably not the best setting! I felt in dire need of a drink (one of the few reasons most would enter a pub like this) and very uncomfortable, and I contend I would have been happier to meander and take part if the setting had been somewhere more exciting and lively.
I don’t really know what to make of Broken Loops – interesting concept, but it didn’t really amount to much. Thanks to the successes of such companies as You Me Bum Bum Train, and other pieces that try and create new and interactive theatre experiences, Rolemop is clearly trying to find their own experimental niche, and while I admire their creativity, this experiment hasn’t worked. There are conceptual flaws and the whole idea needs to be refined, but I hope they keep going – there’s a brave new world of transmedia performances waiting to be discovered.