The last time I was at the Rose Lipman Building was to watch Toby Jones and Imelda Staunton in Circle.Mirror.Transformation. I didn’t investigate the basement at the time but I am pretty sure it didn’t act as a portal to the Aztec underworld. Naturally I could be wrong; I hadn’t expected to see Toby Jones in the building either.
The Dreamery call themselves a ‘horror and fantasy art experience production company conjuring magical and mysterious performance art and installations’. That is a hugely ambitious remit, particularly for a fledgling company still looking to establish themselves. Genre fans of any ilk are a pernickety bunch and are notoriously quick to point out any perceived flaws – often volubly and with extreme irritation.
Still, the transformation of the Rose Lipman basement was an impressive achievement. Despite clearly operating with a tight budget the space had been neatly compartmentalised to form a number of small rooms, each with its own clear sense of space and purpose. The overall effect was to create a number of different sensory environments to unsettle the audience. Some areas had clearly suffered from financial limitations, where the money clearly hadn’t stretched as far as needed. It could be a sign of a rookie company that this was most apparent in the opening room and the transition back to reality, as what it meant was that the good bits in the middle were bookended by less impressive memories and often this can be what the audience will remember.
In a small, merry (there were a few stifled giggles to be heard) band of companions, it appears that we are to escape Mitclan and return to the questionably more pleasant surroundings of the De Beauvoir estate. Except, like most ‘immersive’ experiences, this wasn’t really the case; the reality of the fantasy is always more prosaic than can be conceived in fevered imaginings. It is actually a linear journey through a series of classic horror scenarios. There is little in the way of interaction and a number of the scenes feel as if they have no obvious connection to the concept of the Aztec underworld. Instead the feeling was much closer to that of a journey through that icon of Americana – the local funfair’s haunted house (and anyone who spent their teenage years reading Point Horror knows exactly how scarifying that can be).
The unevenness was undeniable and, without giving away too much of the shocks, there is your classically creepy psychotic, ghostly girl and some disturbingly alluring savages but then the next room would be a new scene and you’d be presented with a half-formed idea that reminded you this a young company still learning to refine its product.
It was the lack of narrative thread that gave the production this disjointed quality. We were ushered from one frame to another, and whilst each individual experience was interesting it never really had the opportunity to come together as something greater than the sum of its parts.
However it never tries to be pretentious and there are few moments where the cast seem to be tipping the audience a knowing wink to the comical element that underlies most horror. The production demonstrates you can be committed to interactive theatre without being incredibly po-faced about it, something that both Punchdrunk and dreamthinkspeak would do well to remind themselves of occasionally.
No doubt The Dreamery will reflect on the successes (and it sounds like it has been a total sell-out) but I hope that, as a young company, they end-up taking more away from what didn’t go to plan than what did. They clearly have huge reserves of invention and are savvy enough to be working in one of theatre’s growth areas so learning to really focus on what they can deliver for the money and by spending more time building coherence into the audience’s experience then The Dreamery could find a very successful niche for themselves as purveyors of high-class interactive horror and fantasy.
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