view counter

Interview: Dr. Joe Strickland on All Falls Down, an improvised, immersive show at Vault Festival

Image: All Falls Down at Vault Festival, Tue 24th Jan - Sat 28th Jan


With their new interactive show coming up at the Vaults Festival in London, we sat down with Dr. Joe Strickland (Artistic Director of Chronic Insanity) to discuss the creation of All Falls Down, and what audiences can expect to see and feel in the show. All Falls Down is an improvised, audience-led journey of survival and mysterious wilderness surrounding a plane crash, with the audience's actions impacting the outcomes and actions of the piece.


Ralph Barker: Hi Joe, great to speak with you. Firstly, I’d love to hear from you about your new show at the Vaults. What was the inspiration behind ‘All Falls Down’ and how did it come about?


Joe Strickland: We were invited by Parabolic Theatre to present a show in their new venue, CRYPT, last spring. The show we originally wanted to revive for the space was unable to be performed there, so we had to come up with a new idea. For a while, I’d wanted to make a fully interactive storytelling show where the audience is blindfolded and the story is staged 100% in their heads until the key moment of danger arises. Knowing we had 3 performances a night at CRYPT meant that we could shape the show to fit what we and the audience wanted it to be. That’s how the show was originally created.


Ralph: The show sounds like it provides a really unique individual experience. To what extent did you rehearse the improvised sequences, and how does audience participation influence the story threads?


Joe: We don’t really rehearse the show, I rely more on my improv ability and the previous performances of the show to know what to do and how to react to the way the audience decides to play the show. Chronic Insanity runs a scratch night up in Nottingham, called Allsorts, so we’ll be running a small section of the show up there to get back into the swing of things, but other than that it’ll be a jump into the deep end for the first few audiences.


Ralph: Is this your first foray into immersive? Tell us about some of your other productions and how this show differs.


Joe: We’re no stranger to immersive performances, with some of our earliest shows back in 2019 being staged in an immersive way. Also, a lot of our digital theatre has had immersive qualities. This show, however, really focuses the audience on the action in an incredibly immersive way without a lot of bells and whistles. London has a lot of big-budget immersive theatre that costs incredible amounts of money to stage, but our show fits into a backpack and has been called equally as immersive. It’s the lo-fi innovations of in-the-head immersive theatre that Chronic Insanity can create that sets this show apart from other performances out there, as well as our own back catalogue of immersive theatre work.


Ralph: Do you feel that your background in music and magic influences your creative process at all?


Joe: Absolutely, the music background gives you a sense of perspective and confidence for these sorts of live and interactive performances. If you’re in a band you do a lot of practice alone, and a little bit with the other members, but you can only truly develop your performance skills in front of people. Knowing that what I can do by myself is enough, and that part of the fun is seeing how the audience will take the bedrock of the performance that I present and run with it, helps make the performance quietly confident, which aids its creative potential to no end. 


The magic background helps a lot in envisaging how the show can work and realising that putting in the right amount of a little bit of something can generate a really big impact. A lot of magic tricks are incredibly simple but appear to break the laws of reality in spite of this simplicity. They pack small but play big. This show does exactly that and a truly incredible experience can be had with a relatively tiny set up and buy-in from the audience. 


Ralph: The combination of augmented technologies in your work is really interesting. Can you tell us about this process, and how important you think the adoption of technology is in theatre-making?


Joe: Often with augmented reality, less is more. Theatre audiences are willing to suspend their disbelief and, especially with horror, the scariest thing will always be something imagined by an audience rather than something we could design and realistically present to them. 


Adoption of technology is in no way integral to theatre making, but more and more of the key parts of the world we live in take place partly or solely online and faithfully or creatively representing these stories without utilising that technology will be tricky. 


However, if theatre wants to make more interesting work and attract new audiences, who want to see bold and innovative performances that tell stories in worlds relevant and familiar to them, technology can help do this. 


Also, to be honest, it’s a very natural progression, given that the whole point of theatre is to augment the reality of the space in front of an audience with set, lighting, sound, and performances to create something live and entertaining. If you look at it that way there’s really not much difference with adding a few more bits of tech to further achieve that core principle of theatre.


Ralph: What are some of your influences outside of theatre? How do you think these guide your creative output?


Joe: I’m influenced by all sorts of creatives and organisations outside of theatre; from filmmakers, to musicians, to visual artists, to inventors, to activists. My creative philosophy is aiming for quality and quantity and making a lot with a little, but a lot of theatre makers can disagree with this or even believe the inverse; that quality supersedes quantity or that a lot of input should be distilled down into a little slice of performance. Given that Chronic Insanity has never had the resources to do that, the money, the tie, the connections, we’ve developed our own theatre-making philosophy that had to be influenced by sources outside of our art form, but don’t get me wrong, we are all the better for it.


Ralph: How relevant do you feel the themes of survival, mystery and fear are in relation to the current socio-political landscape?


Joe: Horror has to reflect the world in which it is staged or it isn’t horror, and we always make sure that the interactive horror shows we put on allow the audience to explore some of the themes of everyday life in a safe space. People will be scared, confused, and feel like they’re barely surviving in the current state of the world, but if they can face up to an imagined yet more tangible threat during our show, overcome it, and leave with a feeling of confidence and strength that can carry over into their real lives then we’ve achieved our goal.


Ralph: Finally, what’s next for Chronic Insanity?


Joe: BATMAN (aka Naomi’s Death Show) is on at VAULT Festival on March 4th and 5th, which is an interactive show about a woman looking to get revenge on the person she holds responsible for her mother’s death. We also have an immersive and interactive show about police brutality and corruption, called Seven Strikes, at Camden People’s Theatre on March 7th. If you’re not in London, don’t worry, we have a whole load of award-winning and critically acclaimed digital theatre available online at for you to enjoy too.


All Falls Down is on at The Vaults Festival from Tue 24th Jan - Sat 28th Jan, with tickets from £22.00, available here: 

view counter