Barzakh (Waldorf Project, Welwyn) JohnnyFox April 22, 2019 Other, Reviews, Theatre I used to be an immigrant. My first job was in Switzerland and I had to undergo a ‘Foreign Worker’s Medical’ in a freezing cold shed beside Geneva railway station where you were required to trot naked from one humiliating body cavity inspection to the next. Compared to Barzakh, Waldorf Project’s latest ‘immersive’ experience, it was a picnic. First of all, it’s nothing like the pictures – you’re crawling around on your hands and knees in a skimpy borrowed vest and pants on the uneven stone or concrete floors of a mostly unheated and derelict 1928 cereals factory. My first thought was ‘I wish the mainstream critics were here’ because the ritual humiliation of having to strip before the experience starts, and the pricking of any pomposity would have been a real positive. Sadly, there aren’t many others. In a succession of scenarios you are manhandled by black-faced and bodystockinged performers, force fed slippery textured jelly or required to rub gobbets of whitish gloop over your own and other bodies kneeling before a foil mirror like some hideous mixed-ability bukkake party … Well, you get my drift. Bodily fluids are clearly the primary theme – lemony alcohol squirts into your forced-open mouth, the seminal custard is followed by a ritual in which coprophilic sludge from a horse trough gets slathered over your face hair and body. At Champneys, they’d call it a Coffee Scrub but here it’s more generously applied and without any means to clean yourself up at the end of the experience, it dries in your crevices so that two days and four hot showers later you still smell like the bins behind Costa. It is all too inexpertly done: in a blacked-out building without exit signs, a ruthless insurance waiver and no safe word, you don’t feel ‘threatened’ in the hands of the cast, but you do feel uneasy: participants were in pain from the cold, a performer stood on my knuckles and even in the ‘redemptive’ conclusion when you’re wrapped and bombarded with strobe light, they pressed protective hands hard over my face without caring I was wearing glasses. With no plot, no narrative, no scenery you are left only to your own thoughts in the wait for other participants to undergo each of your experiences. At this point you might contemplate alternative and more satisfying uses for your £72 admission fee – a ticket to a real play or musical in the West End, six pizzas, your Netflix renewal, and a gram of coke all came to mind. As a theatrical event, this is where immersive meets submissive and it’s debatable which is the more unpleasantly invasive – the first half in which the leotard figures push and pull you through the experience, with a sharp knee to the back of your legs when they want you to sit or crawl, or the redemptive phase when they wear diaphanous white and hug or envelop you. In both cases you’re closely exposed to their cigarette and garlic breath. At the end, someone asked if there was a handout naming the cast – you know, like a charge sheet. He should have asked for their risk assessments. I hated almost every minute of the three and a half fucking hours. Recommend it to someone you really don’t like.