Taking it to the streets: Audience members at You Once Said Yes will be sent out across Camden in search of performers
Published: 7 June, 2012
by SIMON WROE
Mimi Poskitt is worried. When her promenade production of You Once Said Yes arrives in Camden next week, audience members will be sent out onto the streets, one at a time, to find a play that has been sown across the neighbourhood.
Embedded from Chalk Farm to Camden Town is a cast of 13 with questions and favours to ask, who want the audience to say “yes”.
But in a city full of characters, it’s not always easy to tell the actors from the general public.
While some directors worry about emotionally losing their audiences, Poskitt worries about actually losing hers.
“When we did it in Edinburgh last year a few people got led astray”, she explains. “They’d get to the end and say, ‘Oh, I met this lovely man’ and we’d say, ‘Um, he’s not part of the show.’”
Though it may not sound it, the occasional punter going missing is testament to the play’s success.
Poskitt, together with writers Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Katie Lyons, wanted to create something that makes people “engage with their surroundings and with other people… The charm of this show is not knowing what’s going to happen to you and just having to go with it.”
All the world – or at least the Camden part of it – is a stage.
The next piece of the puzzle might be waiting in a kebab shop or a market stall, a barge boat or an ice cream parlour.
The vendors hawking food in Stables Market might be in on it.
Or they might not.
Is your mind melting at the practicalities of it all?
Are you wondering how on earth the company keeps track of anyone?
That’s the big secret, says Poskitt. There’s no high-tech gadgetry – “We went through all that, giving people iPads – the problem is you end up looking down more,” she explains – so it’s just a basic mobile phone and a lot of legwork.
“This show was a totally hair-brained idea that we did for the love of it,” she admits. “There’s more actors than audience members. It will never stack up financially, but I love this show for what it does to the audience.”
Since every aspect of the play is site-specific, its London transfer (as part of the city-wide Lift Festival) has been completely re-written to take into account the “markets, music and insanity” of Camden.
Poskitt has no idea how well Camden will work as a venue – she worries that weekend audiences might get swamped by tourists – or exactly what will happen every night.
“The performers have a script, but there’s always room for interpretation around that, because an audience member may respond in an unusual way.
There’s one character who is homeless and a lot of the audience would not speak to him. They’d say ‘No, I’m in a show, leave me alone.
“When they were really resistant he’d almost have to drop character to get them to come with him.
“A lot of audience members said that was the one that made them think the most.”
Blurring the boundary between art and life is a recurring theme for Poskitt.
Look Left Look Right, the production company she set up with fellow documentary researcher Ben Freedman in 2005, has previously staged documentary-based work about the 7/7 bombings, the 2007 UK floods (Caravan, also at the Roundhouse) and the 2010 elections (Counted), among others.
The company will return to verbatim theatre later this year with a piece about the BP oil spill, but Poskitt has relished the opportunity to experiment with new locations and audience interaction.
“It is really challenging,” she admits. “Each one of those audience members is bringing their own set of issues with them, whether it’s that they don’t know where they’re going or they didn’t listen to the instructions or they wander off. Sometimes they do just go AWOL. But they always come back in the end.”
• You Once Said Yes is at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, NW1, from June 12 until July 1, 0844 482 8008, www.roundhouse.org.uk