The first thing to note about A House Repeated is that it really shouldn’t be considered as theatre. Rather than this being intended as a criticism, it is something that should be taken as fact. The description on the Battersea Arts Centre website is of a performance-game, and for many this will be the reality.
Depending on your childhood reference points, it may remind you of choose-you-own adventures, point+click computer games, or even Dungeon and Dragons. Each of these is a kind of game, but they are also interactive experiences based around the idea that the player can create their own story (even if it is within prescribed limits).
Telling stories predates almost all other art-forms. It strips human imagination back to its most primitive level, and creates an intimate bond between teller and listener. The experience is quite unlike the standard theatrical experience. It encourages a less passive engagement. There are no visual stimuli to rely on, and we are constantly forced to respond to the text to keep the story alive in our minds.
Split into two groups and following similar, but slightly divergent, narratives, it creates a sense of camaraderie within your team and friendly competition against the other. The normal rules of theatre do not apply. Talking as a team is encouraged, and as the evening continues it is easy to find yourself in conversation with a stranger entirely outside of even these the loose boundaries. It becomes a social event that normal staging conventions could never hope to achieve.
In some respects it may feel a little lightweight and at times the constrictions of the genre become apparent. The story requires great concentration from the teller, and an audience willing to engage with the conceit. These make it necessarily limited and, like many computer games, there is an element of repetition as you find yourself banging into the hidden architecture of the game. However our guides work hard to respond to the most outlandish requests, and gently lead the teams in the right direction.
It ends with the perspective flipping so the audience becomes the storyteller. It is a graceful switch and highlights that even when there are technical limits to a person’s memory, there are endless possibilities to the imagination. It also made plain how it is often more fun to tell stories than to hear them. There is a satisfaction in setting out a scenario and letting a new player explore it.
To reveal much more would spoil the element of surprise that makes these performance-games so entertaining. However it is worth noting that as someone who generally dislikes immersive, interactive theatre, I found A House Repeated an engaging and social experience. Its lack of pretension creates an atmosphere of inclusion and support, and it is an enjoyable way to pass an hour in the company of strangers.