Immersive Theatre Review - Bacchanalia by Sleepwalk Immersive

A few days ago, I paid my second visit to Sleepwalk Immersive’s Bacchanalia, and came away thinking that I might just have to try and squeeze a third in before the end of this run.

Bacchanalia is this new immersive theatre company’s first show, and it’s on its second run, after a sell-out first outing in November. It’s an intimate production, with a small cast and an audience of only 40, but it packs a huge amount into that compact package. It’s quite clear, both from the performance itself and from conversations with members of the creative team, that the audience experience was at the very forefront of Sleepwalk Immersive’s vision for the show. It shares some characteristics with other, larger scale productions, such as those of Punchdrunk – most notably the freedom granted to the audience to map their own path through the show, exploring the set and focusing on whatever aspects of the performance appeal to them the most – but, unlike many other immersive shows, there’s a sense that the audience is part of the story. In one scene, a character directly addresses the audience, thanking them for their attendance at an important ceremony, and there are various other moments where characters directly interact with audience members.

When I decided to write a book about immersive theatre, one of the things that interested me the most was the question of what it is that people respond to when it comes to immersive theatre. What is it that draws them in? What keeps them coming back? I think a lot of the appeal is about the sense of a connection with the story, and those telling it through their performances. People like to feel that they’re part of something. I have been to a number of immersive shows, and there have been moments when it’s felt as though the audience are in competition – for the best view, the best experience, the closest connection. I’m not very tall, and there have certainly been times at big productions when I’ve found myself wishing that the rest of the audience would disappear, letting me enjoy the show in glorious solitude, and with an unrestricted view. With Bacchanalia, the sense of being part of something isn’t just about the performance – it’s also about the rest of the audience. It’s a show that feels as though it’s been designed to be enjoyed with other people. This extends beyond the show, with the small and informal waiting area meaning that you tend to chat to those around you, and the post-show bar on the set offering a really lovely opportunity to share experiences with fellow audience members, and talk to members of the cast and the creative team.

I’m really interested in the idea of stories as a collaborative experience, and Bacchanalia feels very collaborative. Beyond that, it’s an energetic, fresh take on the genre, with incredible performances by a really talented cast, including some veterans of immersive theatre. Its scale and intimacy makes it accessible and easy to understand, but it has that sense of half-glimpsed stories and layers of meaning, which I think is one of the most compelling aspects of immersive theatre when done well – and this is done very well. It can be enjoyed and understood on a very straightforward level, but there are plenty of invitations to go deeper, to bring your own knowledge and experiences into the show with you.

Bacchanalia is an accomplished and compelling production from an exciting, talented team who deserve all the praise that they’ve received for this show, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for them.