Chloe Moloney

at 21:59 on 8th Aug 2017

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‘Meeting at 33’ is an immersive theatre production written and directed by Hannah Samuels. This verbatim piece integrates anonymous interviews by sufferers of alcoholism, alongside true accounts of the consequences of drinking, set in the frame of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Initially having my doubts about this production, I quickly found myself being immersed and truly moved by the anecdotes expressed in this short piece, blinking back tears after only a few minutes.

The venue for ‘Meeting at 33’ is a Salvation Army centre, which adds another layer of genuine and raw reality to this production. Set as an open meeting with audience members acting as newcomers to the group, we were intimately invited for tea and biscuits with a circle of addicts of mixed ages. It might well have been easy for these actors to stand out amongst the group of twenty or so people, but upon entering the room and settling down it was entirely impossible to single out the actors amongst the spectators.

The meeting commenced with a young lady gently reflecting on her own recovery story and journey of addiction. Having been sober for a decade, she speaks openly about ‘evolving as a human’ and reassures the others of their validity, despite the destructive and degrading nature of alcoholism. For a production which could potentially have leaned towards the distasteful or offensive, ‘Meeting at 33’ strikes a sensitive chord within the hearts of many of its spectators.

The stories revealed in the group shed light on the physical and mental complexities of alcoholism, and how it touches not only the addict themselves but those in their immediate circles. Whether it be romantic relationships which have subsequently disintegrated or how children occasionally find themselves in the firing line, ‘Meeting at 33’ beautifully informs the audience of the troublesome nature of the addiction.

Regarding such a chaotic and tumultuous addiction, ‘Meeting at 33’ is an enlightening and illuminating performance which is so perfectly and utterly integrated into the ordinary world; a refreshing addition to a festival full of overly-extravagant and garish performances. ‘Meeting at 33’ is a most welcome and heart-wrenching piece. This is certainly a production which will linger in my conscience, with both the tragic and inspiring stories brewing in my mind for years to come.

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Kathryn Tann

at 12:16 on 9th Aug 2017

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As we entered the performance space for ‘Meeting at 33’, I wondered for a moment if there’d been some sort of misunderstanding with our assignment and that somehow we’d stumbled into an actual Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. We were ushered kindly into a small meeting room at the Salvation Army, offered tea and biscuits, and told to sit anywhere we liked within a wide circle of plastic chairs. This was no ordinary story-telling, but an intensely intimate insight into the realities of addiction.

As audience members trickled into the meeting room, I began to realise that the actors were entering in exactly the same way, but it was almost impossible to tell who was who. Some didn’t reveal themselves until well into the performance, when the floor was repeatedly opened up to new-comers, an invitation which always made me feel that I perhaps wasn’t supposed to be there. Nevertheless, I found the whole experience as a fly on the wall immensely eye-opening.

The character of Jenny, played by writer and director Hannah Samuels, set the starkly truthful tone of the piece with her incredibly naturalistic account. One of the other actors later mentioned, alcoholism in young people is so often not taken seriously enough. As a young person myself I found this opening section one of the most enlightening of the piece, made all the more powerful by its basis as a true story.

Another character who stood out for me was Sean. Having caught my attention whilst people were still arriving (he was asking the group leader to sign his attendance slip prematurely), his story was clearly different to most of the other speakers. He was being forced to be there, and resented this fact. He had the power to completely transform the calm, supportive atmosphere of the room to one of great discomfort. Perhaps one of the most realistic aspects of the piece was the tension between himself and Carl, whose differences introduced the question of religion into the circle. In his discussion of the human need for a higher power in struggles such as addiction, Carl’s words gave the already pensive audience even more to think about.

‘Meeting at 33’ also possesses a significant emotional power, with shows of desperation rising up beneath the stories themselves. Had a passer-by joined that meeting, they would have been completely unaware that it was a performance, for even the clued-in audience were fooled at times.

With its gritty grasp upon real lives and very real struggles, ‘Meeting at 33’ is immersive theatre at its most compelling, and you’ll step back into reality with a changed perspective on the truth of addiction.

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