I think it’s safe to say that when you sign yourself up for a Madeline Gould play, you know that it’s not going to be run-of-the-mill – as proven recently by immersive tea dance Think of England, and Edinburgh smash Ladykiller. For Greyscale, she has teamed up with Joel Samuels to respond to the Aziz Ansari scandal, creating an original theatrical experience for this year’s VAULT Festival with Anonymous Is A Woman Theatre Company. Gould and Samuels have independently written monologues for two characters who are thinking back to a first date they went on; how will they remember it? And what will your conclusions be?
If you’re interested in the #MeToo movement and the stories that have spawned it, I’d advise you to simply go ahead and buy yourself a ticket without reading this, then come back and finish it once you’ve seen it – it’s going to be difficult not to spoil some parts of the experience in writing about it, and I wouldn’t want to prejudice anything before you can try to work through it yourself.
Greyscale is immersive theatre taken to an intriguing new level. For starters, there can be no more than 10 ‘viewers’ per performance; this small group is narrowed down further as you split off to hear one of the two perspectives first, before regrouping to watch part of the date, and then moving out to hear the other side of the story. Over the course of half an hour you will confront the grey area of he said/she said head on, realising that the truth can sometimes be more elusive than it first seems.
It can be very tempting to think that things are always black and white: this person made it clear that they weren’t interested, but the other person persisted in spite of these non-verbal cues. While this obviously can be the case, sometimes these cues aren’t recognised, sometimes they’re not actually clear enough to be recognised – verbalising concerns is one way to make things impossible to interpret any other way, though you could argue that this shouldn’t be necessary.
A show like this is the kind of thing that almost makes me wish that we could at least temporarily erase some memories; the best and worst thing about it is that you can only properly experience it once, in whichever order it ends up being presented to you. I know for certain that once I heard Lucy’s side of the story, I was on the lookout for everything she said she’d done to dissuade James when they went back to his flat – as well as scrutinising his face to try and see if he realised what he was doing. It also colours your encounter following the date, depending on what you pick up from it and the opinions you’ve formed of them by the time you meet. I can’t help but wonder how I’d have seen it if I’d heard from James first.
As well as the unique setup of the show, it’s also interesting to note that they have a rotating cast, and the characters will be played by both heterosexual and same-sex couples over the course of the run. This is at least one way that a re-watch could become quite a different experience – for one thing seeing how different actors interpret their roles, but also to see how the dynamics might switch with the change in make-up of the pair. For my performance, Stella Taylor played the confident, independent Lucy, and Joel Samuels took on the role of photography enthusiast James.
Closing off the room and allowing the audience to peek in to watch the date unfold is a stroke of genius. It’s intrusive & voyeuristic, as well as intensely compelling; unlike watching something on screen, where the camera angles dictate what you see, you can choose exactly what you think is most important to be looking at by switching viewpoints at any time. Everything has been incredibly well thought out – the room is packed with detail, though not so much that you can’t take it all in during the short scene that you stay for.
If immersive or interactive theatre isn’t usually your thing, think again for this one. The individual encounters are written as monologues, so there is absolutely no pressure on you to be actively taking part or doing anything you’re uncomfortable with – you can step away at any time if the material becomes upsetting – you’re first & foremost there to listen, though that doesn’t mean you have to stay mute. All I’d advise is having something warm to wear as you will be outside a lot of the time!
The show certainly gives you a lot to think about, but I’m a firm believer that theatre should challenge and provoke opinion; there’s no better place to start than with Greyscale.
My verdict? An intriguing & voyeuristic theatrical experience that will make you think twice before you take one side of a tricky story as gospel – an intelligent & provocative response to the Aziz Ansari scandal.
Greyscale runs at the VAULT Festival until 17 March 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.