The Battersea Arts Centre welcomes David Rosenberg and Glen Neath back to the Council Chamber following the hugely successful production of Ring – an audio-hallucinatory adventure that married a highly technical sound design with an engagingly simple premise to create an extremely enjoyable, if difficult to classify, hybrid of funfair chills, performance and radio play.
Clearly an advocate of the ‘if it’s not broken’ school, their latest production revisits much of the same ground. Again the audience are plunged into total darkness and listen through headsets. Again it is a brilliant opening that works better than you imagine, even though you know precisely what is about to happen.
Very little beats the instant breath-catching horror of being unexpectedly plunged into complete darkness. It is the sort of oppressive darkness that is rarely experienced in urban areas – absolute, total black, where you begin to forget whether your eyes are open or closed.
And then, just as you are adjusting, the voices begin. And even awareness of what is to come can’t stop it from being a spine-chilling moment; your brain fooling you into thinking that you can feel warm breath on your neck as they whisper in your ear.
However to say much more about the plot would be to spoil the experience. It is enough to say that the programme notes refer to Rosenberg and Neath’s interest in dreams, the production attempts to create a collective experience of the shared dream space and the story itself twists and turns on dream logic. It even ends with Dream A Little Dream Of Me playing.
Technically the show is more complex than Ring. The sound feels more layered and the effects more complex. Multiple voices work together more effectively and it is much easier to get a sense of distance as sounds move further away.
However with the improvements in technology comes the feeling that they have lost something of Ring’s charm. It is a strange thing to say about an evening spent in pitch darkness listening to headphones but it felt that Fiction was a more solitary experience. The premise of Ring, the circular aspect and the actor moving around the room created a sense of inclusivity. Here, seated auditorium style, facing a giant screen – even if in darkness – felt very isolating and oddly impersonal.
Even though everything is directed towards you in Fiction, it never quite achieves the same sensation that Ring managed – in which it seemed that you, and you alone, were the special entity in a room full of people. Eventually I found myself disengaging from the story, confused by the dream logic and increasingly alienated from the described events.
At only 60 minutes one must give Rosenberg and Neath credit as they cannot be accused of overstaying their welcome, and much is redeemed by a very strong ending that really is something to be experienced. If you missed Ring then Fiction is well worth seeing but those who did see Ring and may be sitting on the fence I’d say that whilst you may not be paying money for old rope, it is certainly rope you’d swear you had seen somewhere before.
Watch the trailer