Fringe Theatre Review: The Cocoon

What: The Cocoon

When: 14 – 17 March 2018

Where: Adina Treasury Tunnels at Adina Apartment Hotel Adelaide Treasury

Who: Kotryna Gesait

How much: $25-$28

Image credit: Liam Gordes

It’s a rare and beautiful thing to be inches away from an actor as they tremble with tears. Close enough to count their wrinkles, to catch their scent. Such intimacy between performer and audience requires from all parties a certain vulnerability, openness, and willingness to confront the human experience directly. The Cocoon is a beautiful, affecting exploration of love that breaks down the boundaries between performer and audience, inviting us to share an intimate and vulnerable space. 

The ‘cocoon’ we are invited into is a series of small rooms and tunnels in a historic cellar. It’s a marvellously creative use of space that takes full advantage of the beautiful setting. The stone-walled rooms feel warm and cozy, their subterranean location feeling like a metaphor for the journey deep into the human heart.

Image credit: National Trust of South Australia

As the audience walks from one room to the next, we encounter a series of vignettes showing us romantic relationships at different moments and from different perspectives. These snapshots of love run the gamut from heartwarming to heartbreaking, exploring a range of genders and sexualities. It’s a deeply human and honest work full of raw emotion. You’ll laugh with the characters, cry with them, and sometimes want to grab them by the shoulders and shake some sense into them. I was pleasantly surprised at how damn funny it often was. The performance masterfully jumped from hilarious to heartwrenching at the drop of a hat.

Though some fantastic banter takes place, however, it’s largely an introspective work. The characters soliloquise in the true sense of the word, sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings via monologue. The actors would often make direct and sustained eye contact with me as they spoke their lines, enabling a moment of genuine intense connection between performer and audience that is seldom achieved elsewhere. It certainly helps not to be shy, as it can be such an unflinchingly intimate experience.

Nowadays, many plays try to break down the traditional barriers between performer and audience, but few succeed as well as The Cocoon. So often, crowding, impracticality, and visibility issues ruin the theatrical experience and make for a frustrating time. The best sort of interactive plays are small-scale, intimate, and focused experiences, and The Cocoon hits all the right notes in this regard.

Image credit: The Cocoon Facebook page

If you hate being touched, this play may not be for you: the actors would often affectionately slap an audience member’s back, or even hold their hand. The audience were encouraged to respond to the actors and participate in the drama at times, answering questions and offering advice. It was a delight to have an audience member offer a quip and see the actors effortlessly improvise in response. This sort of thing is common in stand-up comedy and cabaret, but The Cocoon made it work wonderfully well in the context of a play.

As much as I enjoyed the journey through the tunnels, The Cocoon couldn’t escape every pitfall of the dynamic interactive play. Unfortunately, it was sometimes distracting for the audience to reshuffle itself into a new room as we awkwardly shifted around looking for spaces to squeeze into. Thankfully, however, most of the actors allowed for this and waited for the audience to settle itself, though I definitely missed a bit of dialogue while searching for a spot.

The Cocoon seeks to get directly at the heart of the human experiences of love and connection, and I consider it a resounding success in this regard. It’s a standout example of intimate interactive theatre done right, despite a few clunky transitions. Come with an open heart and you’ll be rewarded with an emotional experience you won’t forget.

4/5 stars

— Tamika Glouftsis

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