Although the space was a bit chilly, the welcome was warm at the Ovalhouse with board games to play and live poetry to listen to while you wait. Though this isn't part of the performance, it gives you the feeling of being at an after-school activity club. Then you enter the exam hall. The chairs are laid out in a grid and separate enough to stop you copying the person next to you. The three performers are introduced (Terry O'Donovan, Stuart Barter and Clare Dunn, who each play themselves) and put you at your ease before you have chance to panic at the idea of audience participation. The requirements are simple: the raising of hands, the turning of your chair or the eating of popcorn. Our first challenge is to participate in a game of pass the parcel whilst Stuart, himself a musician, provides a quirky underscore from his synthesizer and directs the 'tests'.
From here we are presented with the subject: success and failure. It's also about how we measure these two absurdities in order to feel validated. As the company (or 'collective') explain, it would take too long, and probably involve some discomfort for them, to draw upon the successes and failures of the audience. Instead, they present Jennifer, a fictitious volunteer whose life experiences will mirror our own. Portrayed through a chalk outline on the wall, letters to a German pen-friend and in person by all three of the collective, Jennifer is brought into existence. Using the audience as background artists and scenery, we see her driving test, her job interview, her experience of speed dating and later her marriage. By the end, there's a real connection to this girl as we share her ups and downs and, at one point, it's hard not to feel sorry for her as we watch Clare's bright, expectant face receiving the news of Jennifer's redundancy.
What's particularly impressive is the dynamic between the three performers, who work harmoniously together in speech, action and literally within the music. Having the audience rotate their chairs allows for all four sides of the black-box studio to be used as a stage, and with some tidy lighting changes, we were drawn seamlessly from one performer to another. Physically, the movement is dance-like and fluid, in the vein of a Frantic Assembly production, with the three in perfect synchronisation with each other. There is a beautiful sequence where Terry gracefully lifts and turns Clare as she draws a chalk line around the room, charting Jennifer's experiences and connecting everything together. When these routines are responding to narration, such as Terry's depiction of Jennifer's achievements, it felt like there needed to be a more direct translation as the action seemed more abstract. However, the combination of varied movement styles with the sound, lighting and music made for a very effective story-telling technique and literally keeps the audience on their feet as they turn to follow the action.
This is not a typical theatre experience by any means. It's far more interactive, though I almost felt that the team did too much in assuaging any fears about having to 'take part'. Perhaps it may scare some people, but I think the audience could be involved further. That said, each of the audience is at least acknowledged at some point as they used our names (written on stickers) to weave us into Jennifer's story. Her life isn't necessarily inspirational but it is heartening, optimistic and beautifully portrayed.
There is also an amusing subtext apparent among the performers. Sporting a slick side-parting and a slightly manic grin, Stuart revels in the role of ringmaster. Terry, the favourite pupil, does his best to impress. Having the stage to himself at one moment, he leaps at the chance of running things his own way. He also competes to play Jennifer with Clare, who seems down-trodden at the bottom of the pecking order. Aside from avoiding a self-indulgence that similar devised shows like this can experience, this dynamic adds texture to the 'characters' of Stuart, Clare and Terry, and I became interested in seeing more of their back story.
Being an in-house production from the TOOT Collective, created from scratch, it is a really charming experience and certainly something a bit different. The format is slick, intelligent and innovative though I feel it has even further to go, taking more risks and showing more of this talented trio. Ten Out of Ten is part self-help group, part movie (complete with slow-motion scenes and sweeping soundtrack) and part line-dancing class, utilising the skills of its performers. It's a quite a short performance and certainly left me wanting more, but also wondering what other themes Stuart, Terry and Clare could investigate.