A trip to the Dissenters' Chapel that leads to paradise.
Elastic Theatre's 'Toxic Monks', create an unearthly experience, Sat 20th June 2015. Kensal Green.
Less toxic and more tongue in cheek, this merry band of frolicking monks, create a series of immersive experiences for their intimate audience. Expecting a greater emphasis on theatrical narrative based on the dark and sordid potential of a name like 'Toxic Monks', what greeted me was something far simpler and completely on point. This piece responds intrinsically to its surroundings and the varying levels of immersion offered by each space. As the spaces become more intimate the reception of their performance is gradually transformed. A giggling audience huddled beneath the portico of the Dissenters Chapel, Ladbroke Grove eventually spy the merry monks bounding through the cemetery, dusting graves and watering flowers with a playful bumbling sense of movement. As they draw closer their distant voices floating towards us at first seem unreal, like far off angels. Can it really be emanating from these prize idiots’ mouths? As the quartet share the space of the portico with their audience it becomes clear that their antics provide a backdrop and agenda for a show stopping acoustic performance. Leading the way to paradise through a kitchen filled with incense and down the stairs to a dark vaulted chapel, their voices lead the way. Being serenaded beneath a candle lit arch with a black void behind and a coffin before me, this surreal scene causes fits of giggles as the all-knowing monk makes eye contact and flirts with his audience. But while all these antics are going on a constant soundtrack of harmonies both silly and serious touch on the Renaissance idea of transcending to a higher plane through the arts as we follow the leader to paradise. Crumbling into giggles once more as a trap door opens to reveal a large light waving about in smoke, the audience is completely oblivious of the transformative nature of this piece and that paradise does in fact await them above. '
Toxic Monks', are a classic example of how immersive theatre can engage through the sensory environment, promenading space and breaking the fourth wall but on a scale that builds on intimacy between performers and audiences. As the audience enters their final destination, three simple ingredients; golden light, smoke, harmonies in absolute abundance create the most awe-inspiring experience. This only works in a site so small that it really is filled with smoke, so that we really do feel like we are walking around in a rainbow as our eyes still adjust from clambering up the dark stairs of the chapel. If my description sounds cheesy then let me emphasize that the piece is not. Its immersive elements and perfection of the singers protect it from that stumbling block. As the Barbershop Quartet, bathed in the same golden smoky light as its audience draw it to a close, the doors open and gradually, the smoke clears. We regain our senses to the streaming sun inviting us outside to the portico where it began. Thoroughly disorientated and at a loss for what to say, we disperse- back onto the busy streets but feeling touched in some way by the magic we just witnessed. As the heavens open and we totter about Ladbroke Grove sheltering under one coat, a car horn beeps and an umbrella is thrust out of the window at my friend and I. As a cockney voice bellows “take this girls, you need it”, a passer-by takes his ear phones out to tell us “now that ladies is a proper gent”. I realise on these mini expeditions to random venues why I’m in this game. It’s for that magical feeling- that little buzz that you can’t write about but every now and again you find a piece that makes it. And for a while after the world has it too- as it did that rainy night in Ladbroke Grove. So although I was “there for fun and not as Press” that night as I declared quite decidedly, I knew I had to write about this one and wonder how I will ever be able to make work that does the same.