What do a pair of Bulgarian truckers and a female Indian call-centre worker have in common?

And what have they got to do with the theatre?

They were three of the most disarming performers I’ve seen in recent years. And they were brought to the Dublin stage by the same theatre company, an intriguing German outfit called Rimini Protokoll.

“Stage” isn’t quite the word, though. The truckers (actual drivers, not actors) took me on a truck ride through Dublin’s docklands, in a show called Cargo Sofia, recreating the story of their working journey across Europe.

In a subsequent show called Call Cutta In A Box, I was brought into a nondescript office for a private conversation, via Skype, with a woman in a busy Calcutta call-centre, where she was working the “theatre shift”.

Both shows strained the boundaries of what we think of as theatre, but they were entertaining and thought provoking while they did it.

Now, Rimini Protokoll are back. This time, they promise to take their audience not to the underbelly of globalisation, but to a better world – a virtual one.

And the star of the show won’t be ordinary people from elsewhere – it will be ordinary people from here.

Rimini’s new show, Best Before, casts the audience as players in a massive video game unfolding on a screen before them. It’s one of the headline acts at this year’s Cork Midsummer Festival – surely the most exciting and distinctive arts festival in Ireland today.

Smaller than the Galway Arts Festival and Dublin Theatre Festival, the Cork Midsummer benefits from a more focussed directorial vision. Its brief is cutting-edge performance – but unlike much of the cutting edge, often blunted by being too abstract, this one is sharpened by audience engagement.

Its shows are as likely to take place on a street or in a disused building as in a conventional theatre. The audience is more likely to be asked to join in than to stop coughing.

Which brings us back to Best Before, a show that is part-theatre, part-video game.

The audience sits in a regular theatre. On the stage, a large screen shows images of a virtual world, BestLand. Everybody gets an “avatar” – a virtual character that they control. For the next two hours, they guide their avatar from birth to death, through BestLand, competing and cooperating with the avatars of the rest of the audience.

A typical audience member may choose to start their virtual life as a girl, but later get a sex change. They may struggle to find a life partner, have a child, get caught up in a car accident, be attacked by another avatar, run for election.

The point, says its creator, Stefan Kaegi, is that “you bring the theatre that you already have in your head out into the environment.”

Whether the audience feel like they’ve experienced a game or a drama doesn’t matter, he says. What’s important is that they get a chance to be an actor.

And though Rimini Protokoll is “trying to expand the concept of what theatre has been for the last 3,000 years,” it still relies on two crucial aspects: “it’s still live, and it’s still very social.”

That latter is confirmed by the “huge” amount of noise the typical audience generates, says Kaegi, as they goad and encourage each other through “life”.

Is it theatre? Whatever it is, it sounds like fun.

Best Before is at Stack Theatre in the Cork School of Music, June 23 to 26, with a post-show talk on June 25. See www.corkmidsummer.com for more on the festival, or call 021 4215131.

Published in the Irish Independent, June 12