Louche and luxurious

Audience members with profound disabilities are invited into a high-end cocktail bar for a multisensory, immersive performance where everyone plays a part. Simon Jarrett raises a glass

Singer: The Bar at the Edge of Time

Arriving at the Tramshed shortly before this event was due to begin, I was told it might be starting a bit late as “the audience are still on their way”.

The Bar at the Edge of Time

Frozen Light Theatre

Tramshed, Woolwich

On UK tour until November 2024

This was the first time I’d heard such an unarguable explanation for a late start in any theatre and it was an indicator of the integrity, originality and, most of all, the superb performer-artist interactivity of this production.

Frozen Light creates original multisensory theatre for audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD).

When the (intentionally) small audience duly arrived some minutes later, we were ushered into a magical space, finding ourselves in a fully equipped luxurious cocktail bar complete with individual tables, leather seating and a distinct after-midnight feel. We were within The Bar at the Edge of Time, not in theatre seats looking at it.

Preparing a cocktail: The Bar at the Edge of Time
Photo: JMA Photography

From here, we are drawn into a sci-fi themed, cocktail-fuelled, multisensory journey through this delightful and simultaneously familiar and mysterious world that Frozen Light has created.

An excellent and multitalented cast of three – Burhan Kathawala, Ethan Pascal Peters and Gaz Tomlinson – are dressed as cocktail waiters and take on the roles of mixologists, crooners, musicians, dancers and hosts. They are our guides as, in Frozen Light’s own words, “gig theatre meets sensory spectacle”.

Everyone is offered a menu of cocktails and mocktails (it was a matinee, I went mocktail), but with a twist. We are invited to plunge our hands into coffee beans and other ingredients; limes are rubbed gently into hands so we can catch their scent. We get the full sensory experience of the cocktail before it is mixed and brought to us.

It was moving to watch one theatregoer, at first mistrustful, slowly buy into the sensory experience with the encouragement of his support worker.

In one beautiful section, the cast go to each audience member in turn and sing them a song, using their name. By this time, everyone is fully immersed in the world they have been invited into.

The lighting is perfect, the music and dance high quality and the interaction between performers and audience so deep that we have all forgotten about any fourth wall.

It all ends – and why not? – with a cascade of brightly coloured ping-pong balls from above, which we all throw to or even at each other and the performers and crew.

This was exhilarating stuff, not only because it is just so original and well done but also because it reaches its audience in a very deep way.

People with PMLD tend not to be a feature of late-night, high-end exotic cocktail bars nor experience crooners in louche but luxurious private nightclub surroundings.

Frozen Light has brought this to them, not as an amateurish imitation but as a cool, meticulous, fabulously detailed recreation of a world they are usually denied.

It was a privilege to be there and see the work of this company, who warmly invite their audiences into the wondrous worlds they create.

Read: A show for all senses