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Preview: Wilfred Bagshaw's Time Emporium | reviews, news & interviews

Preview: Wilfred Bagshaw's Time Emporium

Preview: Wilfred Bagshaw's Time Emporium

A new approach to immersive theatre aims to deliver more interactive thrills at Aynhoe Park

'Wilfred Bagshaw's Time Emporium at Aynhoe Park': Punchdrunk with more interactivity?

Immersive theatre is a wonderful thing. It has closed up the cosy distancing of actors appearing on stage, the silent, passive audience below in the darkness; it has shaken up the way classic stories can be told – rebooting time-worn plays; and it has delivered some truly magical, mysterious experiences. But there's a problem.

Immersive theatre is a wonderful thing. It has closed up the cosy distancing of actors appearing on stage, the silent, passive audience below in the darkness; it has shaken up the way classic stories can be told – rebooting time-worn plays; and it has delivered some truly magical, mysterious experiences. But there's a problem. At the heart of most of the larger immersive theatre experiences such as Punchdrunk's The Drowned Man there's a passivity – the audience is still just an audience.

Witness the frenzied scramble of attendees to The Drowned Man feverishly racing after actors, tweeting proudly post-event about a rare "one to one" moment where actor and audience interact, or exploring empty but fantastically dressed rooms, and you can detect a longing in the audience for more – more than to be in a mask silently observing – longing to be involved, to be part of the play, to interact.

Wilfred Bagshaw's Time Emporium at Aynhoe Park - a more interactive immersive theatre rival to Punchdrunk?Away from the world of "theatre", there's a world of interactive games that deliver all the interaction, but they too have a problem – too little theatre. "Live escape" games such as clueQuest and HintHunt encourage small teams to escape locked rooms within a time limit, while other "live games" include a zombie shootout in a disused shopping centre in Milton Keynes and spy trails across cities. These tap into a demand for immersive, interactive entertainment, but at their heart, they're basic action videogames made real or silly physical games reminiscent of live action role playing, only without the elves-an-orcs fantasy stigma.

What's missing, some of us think, is something where the audience is part of the performance, but isn't required to put on silly accents or assume a character if they don't want to. Where they can influence the direction of the plot, but there is a plot and there is genuine drama to witness and be part of – some real "theatre".

Wilfred Bagshaw's Time Emporium at Aynhoe Park - a more interactive immersive theatre rival to Punchdrunk?That's the idea at the heart of Wilfred Bagshaw's Time Emporium – and that's why I, as well as being The Arts Desk's videogames editor – am involved with helping script and edit the Time Emporium's narrative and events. The "first expedition" of the Time Emporium ran in central London last year. Victorian gentleman and time explorer Wilfred Bagshaw found a rift in the time continuum that had to be fixed – meaning the audience helping him save John of Gaunt from assassins in 1381. Now, Bagshaw has gathered a series of these time rifts in one place, his ancestral home at AynhoePark, Oxfordshire, to deal with them at once.

Intrepid time explorers are invited to join Bagshaw in restoring time, while experiencing some of the most iconic moments in history – ancient Rome, Prohibition-era America, medieval witch trials and more. The team behind the Time Emporium includes film and videogame scriptwriting talent, Reuben Feels, an immersive theatre company and The Winterwell Festival organisers (and me).

The aim is to deliver drama in a stunning location and to immerse the audience in the adventure; to let them take control of events, but without losing the core of what makes theatre great.

  • Wilfred Bagshaw's Time Emporium is at Aynhoe Park, Oxfordshire, 13-15 March.
What's missing is something where the audience is part of the performance, but isn't required to put on silly accents or assume a character

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