For the next two weeks, when someone mentions the word "games", you know they'll be talking about all the faster, higher, stronger stuff going on in London. The games that have been happening at Theatreworks this weekend however have been an altogether different affair. For starters, the audience have got to play too.
This Is A Door is the work of Pop Up Playground, a collaboration between comedian Ben McKenzie (Dungeon Crawl), fringe theatre maker Robert Reid (Theatre in Decay) and artist Sayraphim Lothian. It takes its inspiration from the New Games Movement, a 70s counter-culturalist drive to involve people in entertainment that was active and participatory, rather than placing them in the passive role of spectators.
The audience are welcomed into a room festively decorated with bunting and with the walls lined with props. After a group warm-up activity to set the tone, you are then let loose to seek out whichever props grab your attention, and are guided into the associated games by the three hosts and their team of energetic assistants.
Most of the games are of the "parlour game" variety, with the occasional hint of theatre sports or role play. Some are strategic (eg a simulation of fighting a spreading fire, played out on a city grid marked out with ropes), some are social (eg a conversational game simulating a high school prom), others are simply silly (eg wearing huge foam shoes and trying to step on each other's feet). The physical games prove popular, including "lemon jousting" where you balance a lemon on a wooden spoon while trying to dislodge other players' lemons with a second spoon, and a more technical version of this involving motion detecting electronic wands.
There are far too many activities on offer to possibly take part in everything during the madcap two hour session, and there are games listed on the program we never even get to. If it's all too energetic – or baffling if you came expecting a quiet night at the theatre – the space also includes a quiet play section where there are craft materials and such stuff. I'm afraid I never make it over there, because I'm too busy spoon fencing.
The games themselves come from various sources: some from international games studios and "playful societies", others adapted from folk games or the creations of the Pop Up Playground team themselves. A couple feel like they are still at the play-test stage – such as a conversational game simulating a counselling session which is a little too dark and obscure – but the inventiveness on display is eye-opening.
Taking part in it feels reminiscent of childhood birthday parties or drama school exercises and the audience develop the same kind of "instant friends" vibe. It's impressively smoothly run, given the potential for chaos, and the two hours barrel by with hardly a moment's pause. It is worth stopping to look around though: seldom do you see so many adults so carefree all in the one place. Unfortunately, This Is A Door is a one weekend only thing this time but surely something this fun will have to pop up again.
This is a Door
Venue: Theatre Works
Dates: 27 Jul 2012 – 29 Jul 2012
Times: 11:00am to 1:00pm, 1:30pm to 3:30pm, 6:30pm to 8.30pm, 9:00pm to 11:00pm
Tickets: $30 – $25