Last night, I had a middle-aged Scottish woman gyrating on top of me in the centre of a whooping audience of 130 people.
Earlier in the week, I made up an audience-of-one for the strangest show in town as I sat bound and blindfolded while being wheeled around a dark basement – with strangers caressing and feeding me before a woman pushed me on to a bed and stretched out on top of me.
I may be staying at a hotel in one of Adelaide’s seedier streets, but these experiences were all in the name of high art. Honest.
At the Adelaide Festival in South Australia, the most gripping pieces of theatre have come in the most unlikely places.
There is no stage, leaving the drama to unfold in the cosy spaces between theatregoers’ chairs. Viewers are forced to constantly turn in their seats to observe the action and frequently have to clear their glasses and crisp packets from their tables in time to stop them getting trampled underfoot by the cast. In one scene, an unsuspecting woman has her arms stretched out by an actor who uses her as a makeshift motorbike.
About halfway through, I observed the cast members’ eyes locking on to me in the centre of the hall as they shouted in unison ‘the boy!’. They began to circle before dragging my chair out from under the table.
“I’ve never taken cocaine in my whole entire life.
You did that night.
Right before we did the boy.
The boy from the country clothing store.
[At which point, the said boy is being straddled]”
Siolaigha, (Scottish for Sheila apparently) played by Annie Grace, leaped on top of me for a lap dance while my hands were grabbed and rubbed over the rest of the cast – all while the “riotous romp of rhyming couplets” which make up the script were delivered around me.
The respectable Adelaide ladies at my table asked later whether I felt “violated” – to which I responded that after seeing The Smile Off Your Face earlier in the festival, this was a walk in the park.
[Spoiler alert: Don’t read on if you plan on seeing the show for yourself…] The first of a trilogy of interactive performances by Belgian theatre group Ontoerend Goed, the show had been the subject of hushed chats across the city.
Blindfolded and at the mercy of the cast’s young performers, you have a nose rubbed against your face, marzipan wafted under your own nose and a carrot – and a man’s bearded face – thrust into your bound hands. My fingers were then tightly wrapped around a woman’s neck in advance of us engaging in a bizarre dance.
When the blindfold is eventually removed, you find yourself confronted with, depending on your judgment, a priest or Father Christmas – before meeting the man whose face you were forced to fondle.
He then proceeds to show you a wall of Polaroid shots containing one of you grimacing. Finally, as you stare into each other’s eyes, tears begin spilling down his face while you’re slowly wheeled backwards out of the building.
The experience, which molested every one of my senses, left me buzzing and struggling to sleep. Meanwhile, it left author Kathy Lette – who was in front of me going into the show – worried she’d been “impregnated by a Belgian”.
What’s more, my experience lives on in the form of my Polaroid snap. Yes, the image of my strained face and bound hands will now be travelling across continents as this powerful performance art continues to tour the world.
Just as intriguing is the fact that the Adelaide Festival’s night club manages to provide one of the most interesting sets of performances in the city – despite sitting amidst the maelstrom of hundreds of shows that are put on during ‘Mad March’.
The city’s Hajek Plaza is turned from an urban wasteland into Barrio, an electric shanty town with a fresh theme bestowing new sensory surprises each evening.
The ‘Bunga Bunga’ party featured real prostitutes, while ‘ceremonies night’ included ritual feet washing and a real wedding conducted by celebrity chef and celebrant Dorinda Hafner. ‘Phobia night’ brought together psychotic clowns, dentists and tarantulas to spook the sweaty partygoers and assorted casts who had gathered to let off some steam.
One Man, Two Guvnors, currently at Adelaide’s Her Majesty’s Theatre as part of the festival before continuing its world tour, is seducing Australians just as easily as it did Brits with its glorious mix of farce, slapstick and (it turns out, heavily scripted) audience interaction.
But the ‘Edinburgh of Australia’s’ mix of gripping performance art and sensory interaction beyond the city’s flagship theatres manages to make this barnstorming hit look timid and contrived in comparison.
Considering One Man is one of the most commanding and entertaining shows in London’s West End, and now around the globe, it’s no mean feat.