Interactive theatre has become a big seller in Fringe environments, with enthused theatregoers revelling in the thrill of being given the stage and authority over aspects of the show. Unlike other shows within this genre, Two Strangers Walk Into A Bar at the House Of Oz is an audio immersive experience which never feels gimmicky. It is a poignant and humorous take on how we find life’s meaning in human connection no matter how fleeting the interaction might be.
As the name attests, the show consists of just two audience members, myself and a complete stranger. The show begins separately from the other participant – I was seated in a chair, given a goodie bag with my necessary tools for the show and a set of headphones. From here, I plugged in my headphones and the journey begins, as you are guided into a meditation of life by the dulcet voice of the show’s creator, Tilda Cobham-Hervey. She muses about the insignificance of human life, the relatedness of all things, asks you to notice the people and nature around you and instructs you to scribble and doodle reflections on yourself in your bespoke notebook. Whilst her philosophising is not exactly ground-breaking, it is delivered with a humorous and endearing candour which perfectly sets up your meeting with the stranger.
Indeed, the audio, which you must follow to the book in order to reap the rewards of the experience, eventually leads you to be sat face to face with this new stranger, both plugged into similar but seemingly distinct audios. Amongst a whole host of activities, you are commanded to exchange award glasses, to write in the other’s notebook your first impressions of them. It is silly and at times a little exposing. In my discomfort I was simultaneously aware that these encounters with unknown others is something we humans do so little of, and yet it was amazing how quickly this shared audio experience relieved us of the awkwardness of a first meeting. Pushing home the overall message that life’s meaning can be found in human connectedness, the best part of the show comes when we went off-script. Sharing personal experiences at 10am on a Friday was not something I was expecting, and it is certainly not for everyone. But it was cathartic, moving and surprisingly easy. I am sure that my wonderful fellow participant had something to do with this, but credit is due to the production for breaking boundaries between people and creating an environment ripe for sharing.
Part of the show’s brilliance and humour is in the synchronicity of the respective audios. At one point, the audio ordered me to shield my face with a napkin, while the stranger’s audio would remark playfully on the deranged woman sitting in front making a curtain out of her napkin. It was incredibly well-crafted, and the production’s attention to detail is something to be admired. From zany quotes discretely written on the venue’s wall, to mysterious fortune cookies under my chair leg, every aspect of the show has been so well thought through and makes it constantly surprising. Unlike other immersive theatre, this one is set in a busy venue beer garden, and yet its meticulousness and dynamism kept me compelled throughout. The venue staff had clearly been prepped to ignore to the weird giggling idiots with headphones on in the corner!
If you prefer to be a passive observer to live performance, and not the subject of the action, then this show might not be for you. It is a daunting experience being sat face to face with a complete stranger, and yet I left the show feeling like I had received a warm embrace. Highly original, touching and spirited – Two Strangers Walk Into A Bar is a Fringe experience that will stay with you for long after. And to the stranger I shared this beautiful hour with, on the off chance you are reading this, 5 stars for you too.
Recommended Drink: A warm cuppa, maybe you can invite your new friend?
Catch Two Strangers Walk into a Bar… until August 27th at House of Oz. There are six 50 minute sessions per day. Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.