Style of theatre commonly referred to as 'theatre in the round', whereby the 'stage' is surrounded by the audience. This style of set is used predominantly in fringe theatre, and gives a feeling to the audience of closeness to the action, and presents a different and interesting challenge to the actors. There will typically be very few props and furnishings on a set in the round, and the stage should ideally be as small as possible.
Origins of theatre in the round
To the modern audience, productions performed in the round appear to be very modern and slightly reminiscent of the Edinburgh Festival. However, the concept of the round has its origins long before that of the stereotypical proscenium arch made popular in the 19th century. Many of the Greek tragedies, along with early Roman tragedy and Plautus' comedies, appear to have been written with the round in mind. Shakespeare's plays, many of which were performed at the Globe, had elements of the round in performance: a low stage jutting out into the audience, and actors walking amound the groundlings during soliloquys and action sequences.
Since the first actors and dramatists were street performers, acting out Passion plays or morality plays to a heathen audience, it could be said that theatre in the round is actually the original form of theatre.
Theatre in the round today
Many modern theatre companies are returning to the practice of performing in the round as they try to get closer to the audience and shake off the slightly uptight dramatic conventions of previous centuries. Equally successful and effective is the practice of performing 'half-on, half-off', especially in plays such as 'My Mother said I Never Should', where the past, present and future are intertwined in the same scene.
Performing in the round, as previously implied, reduces the need for a large backstage crew and the huge collections of props and furnishings typically demanded by the modern theatre. This makes for an effective production on a low budget, which is one reason why the practice has been so prevalent among advocates of fringe theatre. In fact, all the non-acting crew one requires for a production of this sort is a lighting team, people to man doors for actors' entrances, and a sound crew if such a thing should be needed.
Advocates of the proscenium arch school of acting argue that theatre in the round does not produce the same effect that acting on the stage does - that of being transported to another world - since there are very few furnishings and props. However, one could argue that acting on a stage has become so clichéed that there is no suspension of disbelief at all, whereas a skilled cast acting in the round can produce a greater effect of escapism in the minds of the audiences.