By Chris Caldwell
As I walk into a black room full of chairs facing each other, I am greeted by a man dressed in black with a crutch, I suddenly realise that I know very little about what is about to happen. I reach into my pocket and pull out the leaflet, I read the quoted text above. It doesn’t make me feel any better. He asks people their names as they enter and as he’s leaving he drops a ping pong ball. We all put our headphones on and they slowly dim the lights, then they dim them some more, and then blackness.It’s suffocating, almost unbearable… they suddenly come back on again. “that is how dark it will be for the next 50 minutes” our guide announces “if it is too much for you leave now” – we all look around, two people leave and we are plunged back into complete darkness.
What happens next is a 360 degree surround sound play in the dark. Characters introduce themselves in an AA style meeting. People tell their wicked stories. People walk around and suddenly I realise that some-one is talking directly to me, about 2 inches from my ear. I’m not quite sure what’s real and what’s not, there’s a loose story being told, and like a good book I have to conjure it in my mind. I’m sure it was all pre-recorded due to the English accents all around me, although at one point some-one touched me ever so lightly on my back, and I was certain I could smell perfume and aftershave, but who knows if it’s real or just my imagination!
Technically speaking the sound is terrific, it sounds real and is completely immersive, you swear there are people all around you talking, getting up and moving around, it is completely 360. The sound effects are spot on too. Any lapse in either of these and you would snap out of the fiction, like a movie with bad special effects.
The group I’m in is for very bad people, and by the way they’re talking I am the worst of the lot, the pace of the proceedings quickens as the 50 minutes race on, culminating in an unspeakable act (if for anything else so as not to spoil it for people who may go at a later date) before I know it, the lights are coming on and I’m wondering just how 50 minutes could go so fast.
I feel as if it’s a play performed entirely for me. A play for Chris. As the lights come on and I look around, not quite sure what I’ve just been a part of, I begin to file out with everyone else, like participants of an all-night slumber party. It turns out that one of the people who left was one of my party. They were allowed to sit outside the room (in the light) and listen to the show. Asking her what it was like with the lights on she answered that she was very glad that she hadn’t stayed as it was scary enough when you could see all around you!
This was a totally unique experience and one which I would be keen to re-experience. The guys from Fuel Theatre seem to be coming back here a few times this year with odd and experimental theatre and you can check out their upcoming shows here.