Immersive theatre in austerity Britain: Les Enfants Terribles’ riot in the Saatchi Gallery and the liquidation of differencEngine

Alston, Adam. 2019. Immersive theatre in austerity Britain: Les Enfants Terribles’ riot in the Saatchi Gallery and the liquidation of differencEngine. Contemporary Theatre Review, 29(3), pp. 238-255. ISSN 1048-6801 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This article looks at the relationship of immersive theatre to the material conditions that support its production in austerity Britain. It explores a dark underside to a rapidly expanded market for immersive theatre in London that can leave theatre makers open to profound vulnerabilities. This is particularly the case among companies who have only recently embarked on professional careers in a ‘second-wave’ of experimentation in immersive practices post-2010, which has been characterised by an emergent distrust of the public sector and an active embrace of private finance and commercial enterprise. It takes two examples as cases in point. The first looks at politically-engaged work by a company with a much older heritage, but which has only recently started to engage with immersive theatre: Les Enfants Terribles’ Inside Pussy Riot (2017), which was presented in London’s Saatchi Gallery and was indirectly funded by Russian tycoons. This performance found security in private philanthropy, but elicits cognitive dissonance once the work’s progressive political commitments are read alongside highly compromised revenue streams emerging from a market governed by conflicting interests. The second, differencEngine’s commercial work The Hollow Hotel (2018), found no such security, leading the company to enter voluntary liquidation after racking up debts that ran into the hundreds of thousands. Focusing on these performances’ institutional, financial, and legal contexts, this article explores how a new generation of immersive theatre makers are especially prone to competing interests and incentives in the private sector, whatever their political or commercial orientation, inviting reflection on the responsibilities of key stakeholders in challenging a misleading rhetoric of economic resilience that has accompanied stringent cuts in the public sector.

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This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Contemporary Theatre Review on 18 November 2019, available online:


immersive theatre; funding; risk; resilience; austerity

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Theatre and Performance (TAP)


18 November 2019Published
19 January 2019Accepted

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Date Deposited:

23 Jan 2020 10:49

Last Modified:

15 Jun 2021 04:08

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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