You are walking up a graffiti-covered rail bridge, your footsteps guided by an insistent, shouty, grimey soundtrack. Midway across, you realise where you are but not how you got there or where you are going. This is en route, an arresting piece of immersive theatre by Australian theatre group one step at a time like this, presented in East London by Theatre Royal Stratford East as part of the London 2012 Festival.
This is theatre without actors or a stage; it’s an enhanced guided walk that places audience members in their own private drama on the streets, within crowds, among unsuspecting strangers. You are given an mp3 player and text messages are sent to your phone. You walk according to directions you receive. Props, tasks and site-specific music by local artists make en route a curious journey, a dream-like experience where you are sometimes a passive avatar following commands, sometimes yourself and in control, contributing personal, subjective things along the way.
en route goes around Stratford, which means Westfield, Stratford Centre, the high street, the backstreets, the train station, the car parks, the office blocks, bridges, phoneboxes and alleyways that constitute this area. Only daytime slots are available (10am, 1pm and 4pm), which might seem inconvenient but really isn’t for a piece that involves solo audience members walking down quiet streets and up rather unwelcoming stairwells while wearing large headphones. It is possible to book tickets in pairs or for a trio, so you don’t have to walk alone. The route can be taken at your own pace, so be sure you don’t mind matching your pace to others if you go for a group outing.
This immersive experience is a chance to see Stratford differently, beyond and above all the agressive branding and relentless purposing of its spaces, as set by retail and the Olympics. en route is a paraphrasing of the proverb that you can’t judge a place until you walked a mile on its streets. So book yourself a slot, prepare for changeable weather and wear your most comfortable shoes for a memorable, mixed-up and moving journey that will stay with you long after the music has ended.
en route via Theatre Royal Stratford East, until Saturday 21 July. Bookings by phone only – call Box Office on 0208 534 0310. For more information, go to the en route page on the TRSE website.