From Enda Walsh’s disembodied voices to a Royal Court escape room, experimental theatre is being made without performers
‘I don’t know if it is theatre,” Enda Walsh says of his new show. In his upcoming piece, Rooms, recorded voices bounce off the walls of five different spaces including a child’s bedroom, cluttered with toys, and a cheap, chintzy hotel room with floor-to-ceiling florals. Through each floats a disembodied voice. It is, in a way, theatre without actors; a play, but with no performers present. “I wouldn’t classify it as theatre,” the playwright demurs, “but I don’t know exactly what it is.”
It’s 50 years since Peter Brook laid down a definition that, for a long time, served theatre well. “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage,” he wrote. “A man walks across this empty space while someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” Somebody watching someone else stepping into a space.
Though Rooms falls short of this description, it still feels like theatre.
At the Royal Court, Dismantle This Room goes further still. Created by Milli Bhatia, Ingrid Marvin and Nina Segal, it’s an escape room constructed on the main stage, themed around the power structures of British theatre. Over an evening, 15 people have to discover a way out by disentangling the industrial hierarchies around the art form. “We wanted to put audiences right at the centre,” explains writer and dramaturg Segal. “What is the most agency we can possibly give them?”