Brighton Fringe 2009
Blindfolded for most of the forty-five minute allocated slot, audience members are lead through a series of physical meetings. Boundaries are tested but the overall sense does seem to be aimed towards comfort and human interaction.
On entering the New Venture Theatre Bar audience are greeted by a lady in pharmaceutical attire and handed a questionnaire to fill out that poses questions such as: Are we Ok with being touched? Is there anywhere specific we would be uncomfortable with being touched? Who would we prefer to be ‘intimate’ with: Male or Female? Handed back to the pleasant pharmaceutical lady the audience then wait for ‘their turn.’ Having been teased with the questions, there was a great sense of anticipation as to what we had let ourselves in for. Unfortunately this went on a little too long, and left me free to listen to the technicians’ conversations about practical features of the show that somewhat spoilt the magic.
Finally my turn came when a stern man in a service uniform called me through: He had my name from the questionnaire I’d handed in. I was taken to a corridor and searched, then lead through to a dark, small space and another pharmaceutical lady. My questionnaire was checked, my belongings removed, my feet were sprayed and I was blindfolded: Then the real ‘show’ began.
I was carefully led to another space where different people began to, for want of a better term, touch me. My hands were led to their hands and other body parts, male and female. I was stroked, tickled and massaged. I did not feel threatened but just, well yes, it was ‘intimate’. Alongside this passages were whispered in my ears in various languages. This experience was the main material of the piece, which developed slightly throughout. I imagine here that it completely depends on your own response to the encounters but I was lifted, hugged and danced with – when a charming, foreign voice whispered in my ear: “I’m so glad you came.”
Interspersed with this were small ‘scenes’ that I was led to, kneeling. The blindfold was removed and I found myself in other intimate, differently textured, settings: watching a girl sing herself to sleep, a panicked woman trying to tell me something, and a strange encounter, I think situated in a lady’s hooped skirt, with a charming man who spoke to me intimately in a language I could not understand. These were all convincingly acted and performed well; a credit to the performers who seemed comfortable in such close proximity with their audience. My final encounter, with the foreign man, also gave me a much needed link in the material – as I was about to leave he whispered in my ear: “I’m so glad you came.”
As a continuous blindfolded journey you are aware that there are other audience members around, and hear echoes of encounters you have already been through (the pharmaceutical lady, the stern man, the ‘scenes’). Through the journey I was constantly wondering whether the answers to my original questionnaire had made any difference to my experience, and what would have happened if I had responded differently. This was answered in part at the end when audience members are given the opportunity to watch the ‘show’ through white meshing. It was a bizarre experience. Suddenly you see what you have only been able to imagine for the past forty-five minutes: and unfortunately it does look a little orgy-like. It becomes clear that your path was not specifically planned out, but that each performer moves seemingly randomly between the audience. This did belittle my experience slightly, or maybe it was just making the statement about how egotistical we all are.
Intimate Encounters is a brave, enticing performance. However, the lack of connections or true development was stark. It is only so long that being touched whilst blindfolded can be entertaining, and once that threshold has been reached it is quite repetitive. There is also a strange line between theatre and reality. The body language you feel gives the signal that this is a free for all exploration; however as an audience member I could never quite allow myself to start freely feeling back, but then maybe I’m just too British! For certain people this could be an intriguing show, for me it was to a certain extent, but if it doesn’t sound like your kind of thing then it probably isn’t.