Given the recent rescue of a boys’ football team from deep in a Thai cave, Trapped is a timely piece. Inspired by the collapse of the San Jose mine in Chile – where 33 miners were trapped underground for 69 days – it's made all the more immediate by being staged below the earth, inside the atmospheric Poole’s Cavern.
Trapped is an immersive performance, starting above ground with a terse introduction from our leaders and fellow mineworkers, before we don boilersuits and helmets. It's an opening which recalibrates our expectations about what is to happen – we’re to be part of the team – and we are sent into the cave with an air of some trepidation. The light as we are led in single file comes from head torches, and is inconsistent and patchy, creating a frisson of fear; for little moments you are unsure of your step and the position of the person in front.
It is great scene-setting, and the opening explosion came just before I was expecting it, plunging us into darkness before a desperate scramble for survival ensued. The cast drag each other around on ropes, against the background of further rumbling; it is very dramatic, but at this point the central paradox of our position arises. We are not quite a traditional audience, but neither are we really participants. There is some uncertainty about how to behave: do I help this person up, or stand back and watch?
A more prosaic issue was that there were scenes I just couldn’t see due to my position in the audience. Among my companions this seemed to be a common experience; what you got to see was very much the luck of the draw, as at other times performers were writhing at my feet or careering around in front of me. What we did see was carried off well, though given the lack of commentary or dialogue, a basic understanding of the events of the mine disaster helps to get the most out of the performance.
The miners go through many stages while stuck underground – fear, panic attacks, religious experiences, dreaming (some lovely projections on the cave walls) and conflict. The drama is conveyed mainly through dance and physical theatre, boldly choreographed by Rachel Johnson, and the cast (Alex Rowland, Luke Rigg, Joseph Delaney) fill the available space without putting the audience, or apparently themselves in danger. Offstage and never seen, some beautiful ethereal music by Hayley Youell contributes much of the atmosphere to the performance.
As we approach the exit, a bright light shines in our faces, and the cheering and clapping is thrilling. It feels like we have undergone an ordeal and survived.
Trapped is a brave show – but it doesn't quite come off as successfully as it might, and reactions will be very much determined by expectations. Anticipate a promenade performance akin to Butterfly’s previous productions in the cave, and you may be disappointed. But those prepared for an immersive experience will find much to enjoy.