A shipping container at Elizabeth Quay, blending in with the eclectic temporary FringeWorld stalls of The Palace Society. Milling around the door, we are greeted with strict instructions to turn off mobile phones, remove smart watches and any potential light source. Warned of potential claustrophobia and sensory overload, we are given a last chance to opt out. Even for immersive theatre, these are strict and stern conditions.
The brightly-lit room has facing rows of chairs upholstered in red velvet, divided by a long table covered in plain white cloth. Nervous laughter and eye contact as we reach for headphones and calibrate the stereo, hearing each other chatter and giggle distantly through concealed microphones. Bolder comrades reach up and hit small bells suspended from strings, the tinkling sounding faintly through headsets. With final instructions to keep our hands on the table, our host leaves us in absolute darkness.
The medium’s clear voice sounds in the middle of my head. The séance begins with clichéd patter as the medium invites local spirits and asks audience members about their beliefs, any recent losses, and fishes for names with no success.
Then, steps, heard, and felt along the table. Scepticism suddenly blown away in a tightly controlled sound sequence. Noises are deliberately ambiguous, each person constructing their own understanding of events as they unfold. Footsteps, perhaps, the sound of the door and curtains opening, closing. The medium panics and demands to know who has taken their hands off the table. Further company makes itself known, engaging with each person in disturbingly intimate fashion, a whisper so close to one ear that I feel the breath… and then further chaos, as screams, voices, frantic footsteps chase along unseen rooms and corridors around us.
Spoilers are both impossible to avoid and also impossible to share in useful manner in any review of Séance. With such intensely personal disorientation when the bulk of awareness of the world around is removed, no two reactions will be the same. The sound quality is exquisite, the calibration of effects precisely calculated using the stereo dimensions of the headsets and playing with the responses in our minds. Each audience member will hear and feel and respond in their own way, many responding to unsuspected fears and long-forgotten nightmares, dreams and doubts, to create a unique experience in a 20 minute presentation that itself strangely contorts the usual passing of time.
The creators have devised an immersive experience that is personal and direct and confronting for each participant. A strong concept executed with technical expertise, Séance presents each audience member with an intensely personal, memorable experience.
4 ½ stars out of 5
Séance | An Immersive Experience
Presented by Realscape Productions in association with Darkfield
The Palace Society, Elizabeth Quay
19 January to 11 February 2018
Part of FringeWorld 2018