Hamish Pirie: The Audience in Verbatim Theatre

Category: Writing

Following on from his earlier blog about the politics of verbatim theatre, Traverse Theatre Associate Director Hamish Pirie reflects on his experiences of Demos, a new piece of verbatim theatre inspired by the Occupy Movement. 

The production consisted of two parts. Firstly, a reading of proceedings of the Occupy General Assembly at St Paul's Cathedral in London on 13th December 2011. Secondly, a Q&A session with the Prime Minister in the House of Commons a day later.


As Dramatists our responsibility is to make any piece of work dramatic. With verbatim theatre we might have to find other ways to stimulate the experience as we are often tied by the text.

An extra string to our bow with Demos was the form of the event – the audience were all part of the piece, giving us an extra dimension and adding a narrative drive underneath the piece. Was it going to work? Were people going to speak at the right time?  Was the story still going to be told?

Most people only had one or two lines so were able to be audience members and performers. This meant they could engage as characters and have time to pull themselves out and view the action too. Demos investigated the political so it was vital that the audience could actually be the audience. This created a brilliant sense of unity and ownership amongst the audience (or cast) so that when it came to the post show discussion the debate flowed thick and fast. The nature of the piece directly asked its audience to compare Representative and Consensus Democracy by placing two examples of them back to back.

There was something naked about the way the verbatim allowed us to experience this, that would have otherwise been clogged by characters in more traditional forms of theatre. Similarly, the author would have felt a responsibility to their craft that would have muddied the piece. The piece was created by concept rather than ink, so verbatim was the most effective way of delivering this concept.

There were moments where we wished we could have edited the second half, the Prime Minster's Questions. It's famously dull and Tim Price, the author of Demos, turned to me with a glint in his eye and claimed that this was just as important in order for us to understand the nature of Prime Minister's Questions. Was it? I disagree.

We have a responsibility to maintain a fluent piece of theatre and a responsibility to our audience to maximise their experience in the theatre. The nature of this event was experimental, meaning that these responsibilities became part of the experiment and were highilighted by the comparisons of the two styles of democracy. I think I might buckle in the future and call for the red pen here…am I a cheat?

Take a look at the Traverse Theatre website to see what's on now.