"I’d Be Lost Without It explores our 21st century addiction to technology... Using headphones, binaural sound and immersive theatre, Wet Picnic create an interactive experience which explores the utopia and dystopia of our tech-driven existence... Working in collaboration with a psychologist..."
From Wet Picnic’s synopsis of I’d Be Lost Without It, I was expecting something a bit arty, a bit intellectual and a bit worthy, which might provoke an interesting debate with my technophile teenage son. I wasn’t expecting the whole audience to have so much fun!
Arriving at the Old Fire Station we were greeted by half a dozen actors in respectable old-fashioned tweed suits who welcomed us with the over-the-top excitement and hyper-enthusiasm of a 1950s American TV ad for soap powder, as they helped us into our headphones. This was the tenor of our introduction to a Wonder of Science/How To Win Friends and Influence People sales pitch-style seminar on the 'Logged-On World' and its 'Four Pillars' of Love, Nourishment, Procreation and Knowledge.
Initially, we all wandered round in the delineated 'space', following the instructions on the pre-recorded soundtrack to 'calibrate' the parts of our body we needed for the logged-on world: our index fingers, our wrists, our eyes, our minds. Already we were laughing at the spoof pseudo-scientific technobabble about massaging our scalps to prevent pools of serotonin from forming in our brains. There was an odd moment when we looked around and saw a whole group of audience members behaving differently, and realised that we were not all hearing an identical soundtrack. We had been divided into tribes with differently-coloured headphones and the headphones, like the logged-on world, were both uniting and dividing us in different ways.
The succeeding hour passed in a flash, the actors larger than life as they conveyed the visual parallel to the soundtrack in energetic mime, the production zipping from scene to scene, popping surprises when least expected (I loved the psychedelic computer viruses erupting out of nowhere!), the audience swept along with the action, swaying and jigging to the music, so that at times it felt more like a party than a performance. I think this must be the most successful piece of totally-devised theatre I have seen. I have certainly never seen an immersive/interactive theatrical experience more wholeheartedly enjoyed by its audience. Wet Picnic are past masters at managing audience participation so that it is exciting but not nerve-racking.
The production was so fast-moving there wasn’t time to ponder the issues during the performance itself; but it left so many vivid images and ideas that there was much to reflect on subsequently, and as such it was wholly worthy of its Wellcome funding as a contribution to the debate on how technology is affecting our minds, our lives, our happiness and our brains.
I am going to watch out for Wet Picnic from now on. Their website describes some amazing events they have organised in the past (e.g. a picnic for 4,000 people on a disused suspension bridge). They are also the company behind Crime Scene Live at the Natural History Museum, London (currently booking for April, May and June).