[2014076] WOODCOURT: Encounter

[2014076] WOODCOURT: Encounter

Woodcourt Art Theatre @ The Coffee Pot

8:30pm, Sun 2 Mar 2014

If ever a show was going to suffer from (my) scheduling issues, Encounter was in line to cop it pretty bad: after six wonderful hours with Roman Tragedies, I figured I was still going to be mentally able to squeeze in another Woodcourt adventure. And, whilst maybe I wasn’t in the most… accepting frame of mind for distinctly lo-fi theatre after the brilliant production values of the Festival flagship, Encounter still provided a great deal of enjoyment.

I distinctly remember a sense of relief coursing through me as I sat on the milk-crate seating (on the opposite side of Woodcourt’s room than usual) once more: “I’ve collected the set,” I thought to myself as my OCD neurons fired off their satisfaction, “all five shows.” But the four of us in the audience only just outnumbered the performers – two male, one female – who all sported white face paint while they leant against the wall, chatting, as we entered.

The chat ambles to its conclusion, and the female and one of the males exit the room, leaving the door open; the other chap goes to a small mixer sat atop a milk-crate on the right of the room and, with a few button presses and tweaks, starts a pre-recorded narrative playing… and then leaves.

And there we – the audience – sit for the next (maybe) ten minutes: listening to a pre-recorded narrative, with nothing of note taking place on the “stage”.

And a part of me thought, “well, this is cheap”… but the other part of me got absolutely drawn in by the story being told.

The narration is by a female reporter who – whilst sitting on a park bench – encountered a running man. Conversation reveals that he had been running for twenty years, constantly in fear of a monster that trailed him. The reporter’s voice describes her wavering levels of incredulity and belief; the latter becomes more prevalent when she sees the beast herself.

The two male actors re-enter the room; one sits at the lighting desk / sound mixer / crate, the other stands and stretches as the recorded tale about the Running Man unfolds. Suddenly, the narrative switches – the recording ends, and the stretching man is telling the story from the perspective of the Running Man.

After a bit of exposition, the female re-enters the room to join the Running Man for another perspective on the tale; they then both leave, only for her to re-enter as the Monster, who reveals that they are being pursued by an Old Man. The Old Man arrives, loud and blustering and full of bigoted venom, and explains his hunt of the Monster (or is it, from this perspective, a burglar?) and then – with little warning – we’re done.

It’s a bit of bumpy ride, but Encounter is a creative bit of theatre, constantly shifting the meaning of the story by forcing the audience to observe multiple perspectives consecutively. It’s probably just a happy accident that the perspective shift begins early, with the unfamiliar layout of Woodcourt’s performance space (to facilitate one actor hiding behind the door), but it nevertheless manages to satisfy. And whilst the contrast with the show I saw immediately before it couldn’t be more vast, Woodcourt ably demonstrate that creative direction with a lo-fi aesthetic can still create compelling theatre.

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