Invisible Treasure, Ovalhouse Theatre

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Invisible Treasure has no script and no actors. It’s not a play, but a playspace. For this hour long part-video game, part-puzzle, the audience/participants must work together to interpret the cryptic tasks that pop up on a small screen in the sterile room where they are deposited by theatre staff. The sensors, cameras and microphones that monitor the group at all times determine whether or not you progress to the next level or not, and the chance of failure is very real indeed. A giant white rabbit sinisterly lurks in the corner, its unblinking eyes the Big Brother that is unseen but all seeing. As the levels get harder, group dynamics become more pronounced. Emotions build and there’s potential for rebellion, made more exciting by each group’s unique composition. fanSHEN’s installation/event/environment’s use of interactive technology gives audiences a high degree of agency, but is still a powerful reminder that we are never truly free.

Hellicar & Lewis’ technical design is hugely impressive, or at least it is to a tech Luddite like myself. Others may find it less so but the unification and application are still incredibly inventive. The levels’ tasks require both problem solving and play that the group, on the whole, enjoyed even though some went on a bit too long. Those that aren’t keen on audience interaction or are introverted may find it challenging to engage, but as everyone is in the same position, it also might not feel so threatening. With clear leaders and followers quickly emerging, it’s possible to not contribute ideas but not joining in doesn’t feel like an option. It’s fascinating to watch others, and easy to let go and remember the childlike joy of playing without knowing where the game will lead.

When describing the experience with a friend afterwards, he boldly stated that it doesn’t sound like theatre. To be honest, I still haven’t decided if it is. But it is incredibly theatrical. With practitioners constantly trying to push the limits of immersive and interactive theatre, Invisible Treasure is certainly at the forefront and will create a personal experience and reaction for each person that attends. It’s tempting to go again and see what differs.

On completion of the levels, bonus rounds and free play sections the group is released into an analogue liminal space to process their thoughts and feedback on their experience. This relaxed environment provides an opportunity to decompress and discuss, but could, for some, lessen the impact of the experience by discovering how it works. Though this project is still in the early stages of its development, its certainly furthering the merging of theatre and gaming to empower audiences, and a wonderfully fun experience.


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2 thoughts on “Invisible Treasure, Ovalhouse Theatre

  1. There are definitely different forms and different traditions of Theater. This sounds like some sort of hybrid between a “happening” and maybe the Alienation Effect. But you wonder if happenings were also inspired by something else in the past like pageantry, festivals, and Passion plays. What is really missing from the art of our age is God and divine inspiration. When you compare the amazing paintings of the Medieval and Renaissance era, done by Masters and so many unknowns who were just motivated to paint for religious commissions with divine themes… It’s so much more powerful and inspired than most contemporary or modern art. In the 19th and 20th centuries we’ve been concerned with great social issues, but by the 21st century we have a lot more installation art with emphasis on abstract emotional stimuli. Some of it is engaging but I doubt it is powerful like the theater of the Greeks.

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