I went into this performance with few expectations, but I did have one: I was certain I would experience interactive theatre. This exciting possibility was my only preconception due to the fact that, in REMOTE, the story, characters and dialogue are decided by the audience, through a series of options and group votes interpreted by the performers onstage.
And, given our voting cards (to be held up for the first answer of any multiple choice question), I was very ready for an immersive and fourth-wall breaking evening from the start.
Unfortunately, REMOTE was more alienating than any piece of theatre I’ve seen.
Brechtian theatre doesn’t go so far as this performance did in making an audience feel distant from the events on stage. And, sadly, they seemed to be really trying to engage us.
It was far from a terrible piece of theatre, though- at least conceptually: the voting element was sincerely intriguing, and there was occasional humour. I got the impression that the audience that night was trying quite hard to enjoy themselves. There was just too much in the way for this to be possible.
The performance’s two leads, who were seemingly supposed to be impartial interpreters of our will, were bubbly and quippy in their improv. This, though, was at odds with the austere and imposing way the entire rest of the performance was presented, from the sci-fi noises that played every time they asked us to vote to the speechless men on MacBooks who sat at the back of the stage, silently surveying us and feeding information to the leads, the entire time.
We were promised we would progress through the story through a series of “binary choices”, because our guides “like binary choices”- entertaining due to the slightly robotic way they delivered their lines, but ultimately untrue. There was never a sense that one of the two choices was logical enough to fit into a binary. At one point we were told we could either unanimously vote to shout at our friend and leave or we would projectile vomit on our friend. Obviously, one person voted to vomit, and this was our action.
If this had meant anything for the story, it would have been entertaining, and would definitely have gelled with what seemed to be the performance’s parting message- that our choices, actions and decisions genuinely matter. Unfortunately, we were given one improvised reference to this action before it was made irrelevant to the story forever. The story seemed predetermined, at least until the very end- and even that was taken out of our hands at the last second. The ambitions of REMOTE seemed far greater than what we were given, and we left feeling let down as a result.
Baffling decisions like the performers’ occasional breaks to have “The Fun” (which was normally just them doing something fun on stage, like wrestling or wheelbarrow-racing) were obviously intended to be funny to the audience, but I got the impression that the only people enjoying them were the performers themselves- not something you necessarily want from a fourth-wall- shattering performance.
By halfway through I was barely following the plot, as frequent twenty to thirty second breaks for the performers to look up their lines were too jarring to keep up with, and their improvised banter got less and less entertaining.
I think there was a good bit of theatre somewhere at the heart of REMOTE. Perhaps our show was an off night- but I don’t think anyone left feeling like they’d had any choice in the events of the performance at all, and if we had, I think we would’ve chosen to see something a lot better.
Featured Image: The Old Market