SITTING in the dark for almost an hour, in complete darkness, with not even a speck of light, whilst wearing headphones, and listening. That is all that is asked of the audience by Fuel Theatre in their latest work, the second such show I have attended – it would inaccurate to use the word “seen”!
For last year’s Ring, we were moved away from anyone we had come with and seated next to strangers, for dramatic reasons – at points during the work the person immediately on our right or left whispered reassurances intimately into our ear, so any disbelief would have been instantly unsuspended had we not heard our companion’s voice.
This year, we were given headphones with numbers on, told that we would be sitting apart, and to find the seat with the same number on it as the headphones. On finding our seat we watched instructions on a big screen, white on black, like something from Big Brother (Orwell’s, not Endemol’s) about switching phones completely off, hiding anything luminous , and including tests of the binaural stereo as the music danced from side to side to the words LEFT EAR and RIGHT EAR.
Eventually these instructions called up someone from a specific seat (namely number 32, after the clever trick of having nobody sitting in seat 31) who admitted that she was an actor, read a speech about fiction, and the interpretation of events, clearly designed to make us think, and to lull us into a relaxed state. Towards the end of her speech, her words, and the light, faded to nothing and we entered the world of sound. We heard of plans for someone having to give an important speech, and we were personally drawn into the story, being referred to as “him” or “her”, as long as you had the switch on your headphones switched to the correct channel.
Over the next fifty minutes we were led through the emotions regularly felt during a recurring dream of David Rosenberg, the man behind this show, and last year’s. He is fascinated by dreams, and by restricting the senses, so that our only method of contact with this work was our sense of hearing.
At various points, through just the medium of sound, we were woken from one dream into another, from a hotel lobby to a car, to a hotel room, back to the car, back to the lobby, and so on, either by a knocking, a raised voice, or a tapping on a window, and for most of the time that intimate, whispered, voice of reassurance from last year was there in the form of our assistant Alex, who only left us minutes before the end. We heard the vivid description of a murdered man who was keeping the building in one piece as long as a certain thing did not happen, which ultimately it did, and the sound grew and grew as the building collapsed around us, the sound not only filling our headphones but also the whole room, causing it to shake, followed by silence, and the return of light, at the end of the show.
I was amazed that almost an hour had passed so quickly, I am still not sure if I slipped into actual sleep and dreamed some of the show, but I remain mostly bemused that I have been able to experience something so very different to any other theatrical or artistic happening, and all in Bournemouth, not London, New York or Edinburgh. Long may the Arts By The Sea Festival bring such things to us.