I have been trapped in my childhood bedroom for three months now. The pastel-pink paint I picked when I was four taunts me, and the pile of stuffed animals in the corner means I never really feel like I’m alone here. This week, however, it has felt in many ways like a new place: spending all my time watching shows, writing reviews, going to masterclasses and workshops, and checking in with the lovely Noises Off team has meant that while physically I’m still surrounded by John Green books and old birthday cards, my mind has been in some kind of abstract festival space. Somewhere else.
Some of the productions I watched this week made a physical difference to my space. The Pembroke Players’ In a Cave, a Voice, with its instructions to turn off the lights and sit on the floor, made my room into the titular cave – the space became so distinctly different that it felt reminiscent of site-specific theatre. Gwirvos Theatre’s Not Near Enough also transformed my space, but not through physical alterations. Instead, the piece’s immersive virtual reality format made me forget where I was, presented with a new world to get to grips with. The time of day I watched these pieces also had a huge impact on my experience of them: both were in the evening, meaning there was that sense of buzz we associate with a typical theatre night out. In contrast, watching Fishbowl Theatre’s Genius on a sunny afternoon gave an added flair to the production’s ‘reality TV’ concept, and made me feel like I was on a sofa, tuning into the latest dating show Twitter can’t stop talking about.
The conditions in which we watch shows are completely inextricable from our experiences of them. Often, stepping away from a show, what we remember most is the atmosphere: the vibe of the audience, the train ride to London, what the weather was like or whether we hung around afterwards trying to meet the actors. When the details of productions blur in our memories, what remains is the effect they have had on us, and the physical state in which we experience them is an integral part of that.
I’ll remember this week at NSDF as intense, chaotic, and exhausting: my desk is covered in bits of paper and scribbled notes and I’m struggling to stay awake. But it’s added a new experience to this room where I grew up, one that will remain a part of it for as long as I live here if not longer. Performing or experiencing theatre in a space changes it: the Actors’ Church in Covent Garden will forever to me be the wacky open air production of Hamlet I saw there, while The Other Palace takes on a new layer in my memory with every small-scale fan-centric musical it holds. As the festival draws to a close, my room will join them as one of those theatre spaces: still pastel pink, but undeniably changed.