Interview: Owen Kingston – Writer and Director or King and Country @Thecolabfactory until 10th June @_Parabolic_ @ColabF #ImmersiveTheatre #ForKingAndCountry

It’s December 1940 and a Nazi invasion force has landed on the south coast of England.
For King & Country offers audiences a chance to immerse themselves in this gaming style
experience where decisions taken in the bunker will shape the course of history!
Michael Thomas, Zoe Flint, Peter Dewhurst, Christopher Russenberger and Edward Andrews in For King and Country, courtesy of Owen Kingston_previewReinventing the wheel of immersive theatre, Parabolic Theatre present an escape room-like experience with a high level of interaction where the audience determines the direction and flow of the story.

Before we attend, we got the chance to speak to the Director, Owen Kingston, about what we should expect

PP – Firstly, Can you tell me a bit about how Parabolic was formed?

Owen Kingston – A group of us had been experimenting with immersive performance for a while – we produced prototype versions of a couple of different immersive shows, including Land of Nod, while I was programming a small studio theatre in Croydon (Matthews Yard). These shows were successful enough that we decided to go all-in and set up a new company exclusively devoted to immersive and interactive performance. That company was Parabolic Theatre.

PP – This is described as part game, part escape room, part immersive theatre. I recently went to Revolution at the Vaults (a gaming experience), have been to a number of escape rooms and countless immersive theatre shows. What made you decide to combine them all and who is such a show for?

O.K – We saw a gap in the market. A lot of gaming events and escape rooms are enormous fun, but the game mechanics are on full display and the game takes precedence over any sort of story. Christopher Russenberger and Zoe Flint in For King and Country, courtesy of Owen Kingston_previewWe are a Theatre company first and foremost, so story is at the heart of what we do, but gameplay gives us a great interactive medium for telling stories. We wanted to create an experience where the audience could be fully immersed in the world of the show, but where game mechanics were used to drive the narrative. I think this gives our work broad appeal – it enhances the experience for gamers and theatre goers alike.

PP – I have had a look at some of your previous productions – Free Will and Morning Star look particularly interesting. You appear to create a real range of immersive experiences. How do you go about coming up with the ideas?

O.K – Our best ideas have come through sudden flashes of inspiration, often inspired by circumstances around us. For King and Country was dreamed up while doing a get-out for another show, where someone commented that the COLAB Factory basement looked a lot like the cabinet war rooms. Free Will came from a challenge to create an immersive show where the actor was in a position far less powerful than that of the audience. Sometimes working with creative or budgetary restrictions produces the most interesting ideas.

PP – What’s going to surprise people about this show? And what are you most excited about?

I think our audiences are always surprised by how much power they have to affect the events of the show. It is genuinely responsive to their suggestions and no two shows are ever the same. It is this aspect of the show that I’m most excited about – our audiences are constantly surprising us with new ideas and suggestions and that makes it a very enjoyable show to work on.

PP -What do you hope your audiences will get from the show?

O.K – An opportunity to be a hero for a couple of hours. A few years ago I worked on a video project, recording the memories of people who had been involved in the war. The one thing they all had in common was that wartime had been the time when they had felt most alive – it was such a desperate time it had brought the best out of all of them, and while it had been hard to go through, for all of them it had defined the rest of their lives. For King and Country, courtesy of Owen Kingston_previewBy providing a desperate scenario where people must step up and intervene or lose everything, we hope to give people a little taste of that heroic experience, where for a few hours they have the opportunity to be the best versions of themselves and make a difference, even if it is only in our fantasy scenario.

PP – Escape rooms and immersive experiences have become increasingly popular over the last few years.  How did you go about creating something a bit different which would peak people’s interest?

O.K – No one else had quite done it yet, so we created the show that we wanted to experience. In some ways this is a logical next step for both immersive performance and escape games – we wanted immersive theatre that we could interact with more, and escape games that told more of a story and were less obviously gamey. We thought that if we wanted to see that, some other people probably did as well.

PP – For King and Country looks quite political. Do you need to have an understanding of politics and history to enjoy the show?

O.K – Not at all. We keep things pretty simple and explain anything you absolutely need to know – which isn’t much. If you do have a bit of an understanding of the period, I think you get something extra out of it, but it’s not essential. If you’ve seen things like Dunkirk, The Crown and Darkest Hour, you’ll have no problem relating to what goes on. It is also worth mentioning that our show takes place in an alternative history, so if you are a history buff, some things may be different to how you might expect them to be.

PP – If you could play Churchill in this production, what would be the one decision you would make to bring down Hitler?

One night, we had an audience request that their military advisors come up with a plan to assassinate Hitler. We scrambled around to come up with a plausible operation and I went down in costume to brief the audience on it myself – we called it Operation Hammer Down. We told them it had less than a one percent chance of success, but that it was a bold and defiant act that might play well with our allies. Ultimately, in our scenario, getting a major ally to join the war on our side is very important. America is usually the best choice for that.

PP – What’s next for Parabolic Theatre?

O.K – We have several productions in the pipeline. We have a show opening in Croydon this  week called Land of Nod, which is an exciting exploration-based experience that takes place mostly outside, themed around drug crime and youth violence. We’ve developed it in conjunction with local charities and Croydon Council as a way of understanding how violent crime can affect a wide range of people. We also have a large project on the horizon, but I can’t talk much about that right now – it’s still a bit too far off!

So, we will be off to experience this soon. In the meantime – get your tickets here:

Published by Playhouse Pickings

Theatre blog run by Rhiannon; a civil servant, D&D player, sci fi fan, immersive theatre lover and gin enthusiast

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