Strange Factories is an immersive theatre show by Foolish People, a London based group specialising in immersive theatre, live cinema and independent film. More accurately, it is a film within a film, performed live requiring you to rethink your perceptions of what it is to be an audience.
As is becoming typical for my recent reviews for the Alt Entertainer I am going to go to great pains to avoid spoilers when discussing Strange Factories. It was such a wonderful experience and I would hate to be the one to lessen the depth of experience felt by any of you when, as I hope you will, you decide to go yourselves. So I will try to transmit why it is so exciting without ruining the surprise. Easy.
The narrative of the night follows an Author searching for an ending to his story. Victor, the writer, is drawn to a settlement founded by the mysterious Stronheim where he finds his friends waiting for him. Victor makes a pact with Stronheim who offers to rebuild his theatre so long as Victor finishes his story, in the way that it should be finished.
From the beginning (before the beginning actually) the audience members are separated and made to question their position as passive spectators and their pre-conceived notions of what watching a film means. This unusual and dislocating process prefigures a whirlwind experience designed to disorientate and delight you. You move in and around the set as the plot moves and swirls around you. The experience is unbalancing but wonderful.
The underlying theme of the whole night is about storytelling and art. What is the creative impulse and how does it manifest itself? Why do stories seem to exist outside the mind of the artist, like an elemental force that is tapped by different people at different times but that is always the controlling force in the relationship? As the tension rises and the haunting lunacy unravels in front of you, you are forced to confront the destructive nature of art.
The surroundings of the Cinema Museum in Elephant and Castle is apt not just for its amazing hive-like building. Strange Factories questions the role of the modern audience by evoking the early days of the moving image when performances were just that, performance. The whole experience brings to mind a Lumière brothers screening that somehow involves a company of Commedia dell’arte players.
I found the entire night an inspiring and beautiful experience from start to finish. It felt like a hundred different storytelling techniques were used, drawn from the past few centuries and woven together to explore the age old questions of what art is. I was captivated from the beginning and the ballet crescendo struck a perfect end note to evening that felt like one long dance. It was fitting that a night celebrating the early days of the moving image should be so truly magical.
It’s not a light, easy experience but as we are told, some stories have painful births.
Tickets are available from the Strange Factories website for the following showings:
Oct 30-Nov 02 and Nov 5-9. Cinema Museum, London
Nov 10 Duke of York, Brighton Picture House
Nov 15-16 Sundown Cinema at Hitchin Lavender Farm, Hitchin
Nov 18 Pavilion Dance, Bournemouth
The feature film is available for digital download from the same page.
Words by Neil McComb, Image courtesy of Strange Factories.