Theatre / black tonic

Interview: Katie Day, Black Tonic

By steve wright, Friday Sep 25, 2015

The Other Way Works presents this original detective story for four people at a time, set in the rooms and corridors of a fully functioning hotel.

Audiences are guided through the corridors by ‘hotel staff, shakily hand-written notes and anonymous phone calls, rifling through the rooms and eavesdropping at doors to uncover clues to help them solve the mystery that starts with a shard of broken glass.

Whats causing the tension between married couple Helen and Steve? Can Anna, the ‘professional relationship restorer’ help them? Overheard conversations, discarded photographs and CCTV footage all make up the clues in this immersive, interactive performance in which the audience-turned-detectives must work out what lies at the bottom of the mystery – and sift the performers from the actual guests.

Artistic director Katie Day introduces the show. 

Tell us how audiences will experience Black Tonic.
The audience are ‘checked-in’ to the hotel on arrival, and are guided in various ways through the public spaces and bedrooms of the hotel. A lot of the time things start to happen just at the right time right just where they are, so as long as audiences follow the instructions they are given they shouldn’t be in any doubt about what they should do next. A healthy nosiness about other people’s conversations is definitely a useful attribute for this show!

So audiences should prepare to play detective?
We invite the audience to get into a light detective role by encouraging them to be inquisitive, and providing chances for them to explore for themselves. A note from a mysterious character at the opening of the show sets the tone: “I’ll provide the clues, you put it all together, so keep your eyes open. It’s happening all around you.”

How important is solving the mystery to audiences’ enjoyment of the evening?
Black Tonic is more David Lynch than Cluedo. There is a detective story to follow and unravel, and we leave as many clues as we can for audiences to piece together. But there’s a lot of other things going on too, and it’s as much about the atmosphere, the location, and the individual characters’ stories as it is about putting together the mystery.

Requiring a bit of audience involvement, it’s perhaps not a show for shrinking violets?
Black Tonic is definitely a show that requires our audiences to get actively involved, so it’s not going to be for everyone. But The Other Way Works is passionate about inviting audiences into the heart of the action, and ensuring that we work hard and organise things so that everyone has access to the full story and the best experience – that’s why it’s restricted to only four audience members per show. We always make sure audiences are well guided, and we never trick or humiliate people – that’s just not fair, as far as I’m concerned. We don’t make you talk, you can communicate with the characters as much or as little as you like.

Where does the name Black Tonic come from?
Black Tonic is a translation of Melatonin: Mela (black) Tonin (tonic). Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain at dusk which helps bring on sleep and keeps the body clock in sync. Black Tonic explores the chaos caused by disrupted body clocks. All of the characters are affected in different ways by the demands of their work schedules: some work night shifts, others take regular flights across time zones, and all of this takes its toll on their social lives and their health.

What are the challenges and rewards of a show like this, which leaves quite a lot in the hands of audiences?
Even more than most theatre, Black Tonic only really comes to life when the audience joins us. Much of the excitement for us performing it comes from all the individual ways our audiences respond and interact with the characters and situations. We also love the way the performance interacts with the ‘real life’ of the hotel, when ‘real’ staff and guests become part of what’s happening without them even realising it. These are also the elements that are the trickiest to practice and plan for, of course – but the rewards definitely outweigh the challenges!

Black Tonic takes place at The Grand Hotel, Broad St from Tuesday, September 29 to Saturday, October 3. Performances at 6.30pm, 7.45pm & 9pm each day. Tickets: £45 for two people.
For more info and to book tickets, visit www.watershed.co.uk/whatson/6700/black-tonic 

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