Theatre today increasingly falls into one of two broad camps. On the one side is the traditional fourth wall performance – you sit here, we stand here, we tell a story and you listen. On the other is the ever more popular experiential - audience as performers, the story not a fixed plot but a different path for everyone based on their reactions to the stimuli thrown at them.
Séance can go a long way purely by relying on the audience’s own fears – you get out of the darkness what you bring into it.
Séance, a 15-minute immersive paranormal audio experience in the pitch-dark depths of a shipping container, falls definitively into the second camp – less a play, more a psychosocial experiment and, to a certain point, a successful one. The very act of being locked in absolute darkness is a disconcerting one so the audience is immediately in the right frame of mind to be scared witless.
Sadly, the production doesn’t build sufficiently on this initial thrill of terror. Running at a lean 15 minutes, the time spent in the dark isn’t sufficient for the initial nerves to graduate into full-on heebie-jeebies. The audioscape pumped through the headphones is atmospheric and the 360-degree sound impressively immersive but there are also oversights in its crafting which, as the audience’s only inroad to the plot, serve to take them out of the experience at key moments. It’s hard, for example, to truly buy into a creepy monologue delivered from behind you when you know for a fact that your chair is bolted securely to the wall.
With a little more thought, Séance could have been something special. It’s not without its inspired moments; the use of bass sound to create a tactile element is a clever innovation and the way the spirit’s ‘voice’ blends into the ambient noises of the container is very effective. These moments, however, are too few and far between to keep the audience focussed on the tale at hand and the result, for me, was a fatal breaking of the tension.
Those of a nervous disposition will no doubt still find their share of chills within. As with any psycho-thriller, Séance can go a long way purely by relying on the audience’s own fears – you get out of the darkness what you bring into it. Purely on its own merits, however, even a scaredy-cat like me found it to be rather one-dimensional.