Audience participation takes centre stage in For King and Country

I didn’t expect to spend the night of the royal wedding in a 1940s bunker screaming ‘God save the King’.
But lo and behold, as an emergency member of parliament, I had to protect the monarch from German forces edging closer to London.

In ‘For King and Country’, this alternative version of history is masterfully researched, created and improvised by Parabolic Theatre at COLAB Factory.

The immersive-theatre-meets-strategy-game allows its audience to drive the play’s narrative and decide the war’s outcome as they face Operation Sealion, Adolf Hitler’s planned invasion of the United Kingdom.

On the purpose behind the performance, writer and Parabolic Theatre director Owen Kingston said: “The structure is a free form. What one person sees on a given night is probably 60% prepared and the rest is improvised.

“Pretty much every time we do the show there is material we’ve never used before.”

Despite working in theatre for almost ten years, Owen has a history in film writing and borrowed best practice for script writing to inform the production’s multifaceted structure.

Owen said: “The use of movie script writing is a way of giving the audience a familiar feel to hang on to when the chaos of the show is unfolding around them.”

Despite this chaos, it is the audience who are in control, making morally charged parliamentary decisions and unexpected suggestions which the actors happily play off.

The historical research informing ‘For King and Country’ is impressive.

“I am a massive war-nerd and always enjoyed history at school. I’ve played a lot of tabletop war games, which provide a lot of niche historical detail about the period, so I had good starting point,” added the production writer.

Owen’s initial passion for history was informed by researching Operation Sealion, the real unacted plans for the German invasion.

Their research went as far as finding out exactly which German and English divisions would have been involved in the operation and plotting these pins on the map’s in the play.

The difference between a conventional play with a fourth wall and they way ‘For King and Country’ intersects game and political history plays out in the detail of the set design and being present in the emergency cabinet war room.

Edward Andrews, 29, who plays Squadron Leader James Muire said: “The audience can’t sit back and go ‘oh that’s a good bit of storytelling’, because they are the story. They are the protagonists of what happens and the actors are just there to facilitate their decision making in the bunker.

Immersive theatre might intimidate those scared of the spotlight. However, the production team deliberately devised the show to ensure all personality types can enjoy it.

Edward added: “No one is ever put in an uncomfortable position they don’t want to be in. No one ever has the spotlight thrust on them. The spotlight for there is for people to walk into if they want it.”

For King and Country allows audience members to experience the kinds of moral and strategic decisions world leaders have to make everyday, while giving it a humorous and accessible edge.

What: Immersive theatre
Where: COLAB Factory, 74 Long Lane, London, SE1 4AU
When: May 23 – July 29
How: Short walk from Borough Tube Station

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