Brought to us by the fourth and final group of final year students from the School of Performance and Cultural Industries, Barbaric and Wild is a long way from any theatre experience you will have had within Leeds. It was a highly immersive production, with the audience invited to partake in the journey, feeling very involved in the creation of the piece. It explored the savage nature of mankind, and how easily we can be corrupted and dragged back into our intrinsically animalistic selves by forces stronger than mankind. It was a piece that celebrated the power of nature over us all, and managed to do it in a way that evoked all our senses and confronted us hugely, but not once felt pretentious or forced.
The journey began with each member of the audience being invited into the space, to give up our bags and coats as though we were entering a fairground of some kind. I was surprised at how uneasy this initial invitation made me feel, and it was obvious I was not alone in my view, as it clearly placed people out of their comfort zones and enabled them to fully immerse themselves in the experience, without the distractions of their property or the outside world. Entering the performance space was an attack on the senses, with incense burning and the performers placed around the room dressed as savages, chanting in an overlapping, manic style. The audience were moved around the space like puppets, with the performers using intense eye contact upon us all. This was initially massively uncomfortable, and yet by the end of the journey we all felt bizarrely unified by the experience.
The long white sheets hanging from the ceiling created a claustrophobic environment, that made us feel as though we were in a sort of maze. The lighting throughout was innovative and helped create vastly different atmospheres, and was utilised particularly well through the use of shadow puppetry. What really stood out for me in this scene was the involvement of the audience in the creation of the image. We were each given a little paper house with which to make a town, which was then swept away and destroyed. This forced us to become active participants as opposed to passive viewers, which is something I think is often lost from theatre today.
Barbaric and Wild, although written for the purpose of passing an exam, was a visual spectacle, and something that didn’t feel stilted in any way towards “ticking boxes” and meeting the demands of an often creatively restricting exam criteria. This performance was one that stood out as one of the most memorable performances over my three years at Leeds, and it was great to see PCI push boundaries and do something so utterly different. Part of me wished I could have gone a second time to Barbaric and Wild, this time knowing what to expect, but part of its charm and impression came out of the fact that we were all thrown so far out of our comfort zones that it became an all-encompassing experience rather than something to analyse and break down. An incredibly well constructed piece from these final years, and one that nobody will forget.
Images courtesy of David Shearing