I have nothing bad to say about the intentions behind Our Glass House, an immersive theatre production exploring the tough issue of domestic abuse. I commend their bravery in using such a format to address such issues, and I understand the intention of wanting to offer audience members the experience of being trapped inside a house of suffering by setting the play within the house. Unfortunately, for all the good intentions, I can’t say that this production worked – not for me anyway.
Reading in the cleverly designed programme (a pop up house springs out of the centre) prior to the show I discover that part of the company’s intention was to attract those who might not otherwise go to the theatre. Well, I can’t attest as to the demographic and usual viewing habits of my fellow audience members, but I can certainly say they pulled in the crowds. In the introduction to the show we were told not to block doorways by standing in them as this was the largest amount of people to have been visiting this particular house. As you may be able to imagine, people proceeded to block doorways throughout the production; we were told that at no time during the show were we going to be ‘missing out’ that if ten people were going into one room because ‘something’ was happening, that didn’t mean we had to follow. Apart from I sort of felt that it did.
I took the advice given at the start and nosed around the house paying attention to what interested me, but when loud sounds started emanating from certain rooms and not a lot was happening where I was – or I had missed the part of that character’s story that would have made what I was now seeing make sense – I always found myself too late arriving at the active room to get in.
I had a fragmented experience at best, and although at times I could sense the overpowering emotion behind the words and actions I caught I never gleaned enough of a story to truly feel or understand anything. The house was cleverly designed with facts about domestic abuse on doors, walls and other props there to enforce the experience inside it. There were some lovely moments when characters throughout the house started signing the same song, or making horribly loud noises all at the same time. This was effective and powerful, but could have been so much more so had I known any of their stories fully.
I know that a sense of confusion and a chance of missing events is part of this kind of theatrical experience. I’m just not 100% sure it works for theatre with so powerful a message and aims of raising awareness. I certainly had an experience, that’s for sure, it just wasn’t as strong an experience as I was expecting or as hearing these stories in a more conventional theatre space would offer. Ultimately, though, I think if the house had had far less audience members in it my comments on the show might be very different. The production values were high, the performances were strong and the house was cleverly created. The more I think on it the more I think it was the large audience number that was severely detrimental to the production.
Our Glass House was an ambitious project (now over after 2 years of being performed) and I really do commend that, I just wish I’d got more of a sense of it as a whole rather than shattered glimmers of these important stories of broken lives.