Entering the Moser Theatre for Tara Isabella Burton’s O Human Child – a play about the journey through a ritualised and fantastical fairy woods in pursuit of the discovery of all sorts of debauched passions – leaves you feeling a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights. You barely have your foot through the door before you are seized on by one of the fairies of this kingdom, dressed in a domino mask, and impelled to hear out a personalised monologue about the dangers and delights which await you in this fairy woods, all while you are still trying to figure out where you are going to sit. There are no seats. The interactive element of the production has the audience, along with the entire cast, on stage for the duration of the performance, leafing through the shrubbery littered on the floor, flickering from one scene to another like tennis balls, and intermingling with the quirky yet infectious personalities of the encircling fairies.
But if the entrance was a touch overwhelming, the opening scene is decidedly underwhelming, as we witness a brief account of unrequited love sluggishly staged, and persistently compromised by the cacophony of the rustling shrubbery beneath and the vast quantity of different things going on at the same time. It was already at this point that a few members of the audience had somewhat presumptuously given up on this play. Disinterested, disorientated, or maybe just frustrated at having to stand for so long, they would take off their masks and awkwardly refuse interaction with cast members. And given that the success of the play was fully dependent on the success of the audience’s interaction and immersion, as the play itself was concerned with the immersion of an individual into the depths of the passions of love, this disinterest did not bode well.
However, the majority did stick with it and were richly rewarded by the end. As the plot intensified, so did the strength of the performance. Thomas Bailey delivers a compelling portrayal of the Knight, and the committed, consistent, and highly original performance of Emma D’Arcy as Puck orchestrates the play, captivating the audience even at times when the plot appeared bumbled and confused. Playful fairies, too, perk up the standing audience, sifting through them and engaging them in their mischief – I myself fell victim to a fairy offering me a grape before, seeing that I was about to take it, gulping it herself and running off giggling. Their offerings of various fruits, accompanied by the words ‘Hug me, eat me, suck me dry’, throughout the performance serve to immerse us into the ritualised, sexual fantasy they inhabit. Thus interactive element of the production which renders the audience standing around sheepishly at the start of the show, actually becomes a real strong point by the end of it. The creativity, urgency, and intensity of the performance makes it a very rewarding experience, and certainly leaves you, perhaps appropriately, very oddly satisfied.
*** (THREE STARS)
O Human Child plays at the Moser Theatre on Friday November 16th at 2:30pm, 7:00pm and 9:00pm.