I have worked as a freelance director on over seven individual immersive events that took place in the Caribbean, these would have a narrative that played out over five days with locations such as the mangrove swamp used in Pirates of the Caribbean and would often encompass several different Islands. It seemed only natural that at some point I would bring that experience to bear upon my own theatre company, Flabbergast Theatre’s programming.

Flabbergast by Henry Maynard

Flabbergast by Henry Maynard

This year we take our interactive, immersive show The Swell Mob to the Edinburgh Festival. It will be set in the 1800s at a time when The Swell Mob – gangs of young gentlemen who dressed in the very best knock-off finery that they could muster, who would con their way into high society parties, and make off with many a priceless item.

The show will be our first performance fusing our award-winning puppetry, physical comedy and theatre, mask and our improvisation into an immersive environment

We wanted to create something that is more than just a show. Flabbergast have long proclaimed that theatre should be alive and experiential. When the company was formed back in 2010 our founding principle was to make uncompromising and exciting physical theatre in a belief that all theatre should be engaging and sweaty.

Our interests have developed, and the company has expanded skills from puppetry and physical theatre into contemporary clowning and begun to work with text-based pieces too.

Moving into work that requires the audience to interact directly with the production seemed like a logical next step.

I love the Edwardian period for its aesthetic and that is often reflected in Flabbergast’s work this show takes that a little further and sets the play in that period, there is something else at play too but I don’t want to give away the surprise. As with a lot of our work it is influenced by myth and storytelling that may not immediately be obvious but with a little investigation should become more apparent.

As well as things for the audience to watch there are elements of production the audience will have to find for themselves. Interact with the cast to discover secrets and be invited into unseen parts of the space and work through puzzles and escape room elements.

Always we endeavour to create theatre through an extensive and collaborative research and development process using performers from many disciplines to bring an innovative and unpretentious approach to the work. As a director who came from an acting background I am very interested in empowering the performer, giving them a sense of ownership. This I feel engenders a better performance and commitment to the project rather than the UBER-MARRIONETTE Espoused by Gordon Craig.

We also work a lot with improvisation in the devising process, and I am inspired by the work of Mike Leigh in my application of his to this particular show, creating organic relationships and guiding drama rather than imposing.

I sincerely hope audiences will enjoy the show, the idea is that it will develop and grow over the run and we will also have a great many guest performers and characters popping in and out throughout the run.

The Swell Mob is on at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 1st – 26th August (not 13th)

Tickets: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/swell-mob