REVIEW: Fiction @ mac Theatre, Thurs 16th Oct

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Words by Ed King – follow him @EdKing2210 / Pics courtesy of Fuel Theatre

*Fiction returns to mac Theatre tonight/Fri 17th October. For further information & tickets, visit http://macbirmingham.co.uk/event/fuel-fiction/*

“…no, you won’t be able to go to the toilet.”

mac Box Office finishes their list; I get the feeling this ‘briefing’ has been said once or twice tonight. No talking, no phones, no LED watches, no “…sitting intimately together or holding hands. In fact, no touching at all”. I scan the queue for the inevitable first date… there they are. Swing and a miss.

“Fiction is ‘a surreal and immersive audio experience in total darkness’”, I read form the flyer; a five star rating from What’s On Stage follows, with the oddly placed cliché ‘an absolute must see’ as its conclusion.

“So it’s what, a play in the dark?” my friend asks. “Sort of, more a production,” I attempt an explanation and sound like a wanker, “but using sensory deprivation. They stick you in a totally dark room and make you wear headphones, then the story is told to you by a ‘chaperone’. But you don’t watch anything, it’s all done through sound. I think.”

“It’ll be fun.” I’m not selling this well, a look of irritable confusion comes back at me. “Sounds more scary, in an Alton Towers bad Halloween kind of way. And you can’t leave, not even to use the loo. I’m not sure I’m happy about that.” As the owner of the city’s weakest bladder for a man under 40, neither am I. We order shorts at the bar.

Fiction is the newest production from Glen Neath and David Rosenberg, the show’s writer and director respectively. Their last collaboration, Ring, was another blackout/binaural sound experience – receiving reviews that ranged from admiration to confusion. Fiction is, I assume, an evolution of the same concept. One I’m eager to experience, but with no clear idea of what it is I’m so ready to involve myself in. I don’t even know why it’s called Fiction.F

Fuel Theatre, who produced both Ring and Fiction, are probably the compelling reason. Fiction’s marketing spiel is understandably clandestine (no point having a surprise if you know what it is) but the London based theatre company have spent ten years challenging the more traditional approaches of theatre and I want to see that first hand. Or hear that, at least.

We make our way up, up, upstairs to The Foyle Room, where a front of house steward seems intent on separating the audience from their respective companions. My friend negotiates two seats together and I look around for the first date again, but after a rather paranoid wee we’re seemingly the last ones to enter.

As we find our numbered seats (which are on either side of the isle) we walk through a full room laid out theatre style, with a podium and projection screen at the front. Everyone has their earphones on already and are complicity staring at the podium. There is nothing else to look at; the room, which I’ve seen in daylight several times before, is like the inside of a curtain. I can’t get Twin Peaks or A Clockwork Orange out of my head – a dangerous precursor to 60minutes of pitch black.

The rooms settles. The doors closes and the lights stay on. As a series of messages appear on the screen I begin to get childishly excited, in an Alton Towers bad Halloween kind of way. The messages tell us ‘half the room are actors’ before asking random seat numbers to stand up. Number 32 is asked to stand on the podium and read an introduction into the microphone, which, in turn, is read direct into our earphones. The binaural recording is already quite overwhelming, giving the sensation of still being in a room listening to someone read an introduction (which indeed we are) but experiencing it only through our headphones, hermetically sealed.

Number 32, who is asked by her own introduction if she is, in fact, an actor (she is, and admits as such with nonchalance) continues to explain 3rd hand how our minds will make real characters and places in a narrative, filling in the appropriate blanks of consciousness to propel a story. We are the creators of our own experience, and experience is the only measure of our own reality. I’m beginning to understand why the production’s called Fiction and what part each audience member will play – even if only to themselves.

Number 32 continues, but I’m only half listening – to the words at least. The speed of her voice is altered and as the light in the room begins to fade I hear other noises through my earphones – noises that I think, or at least feel, are coming from the audience. From somewhere I hear sheep. I’m tired now. The voice I’m listening to changes. The noises increase then subside. A whisper comes in through my headphones. The room is in total darkness now. A woman called Alex introduces herself. I think we’re in a hotel; we are. Someone’s broken an ornament. I’m not sure if my eyes are open or closed.

As the lights come back up, an hour later, I watch the audience stand up and shake themselves off. It feels like a TV screen. My friend puts her hand on my shoulder and mouths ‘take off your headphones’. At this point I’d do probably most things suggested.

mac Birmingham - logoBack in the bar we tear the evening apart; a powerful approach that fell short on the narrative. The woman who’d sat next to my friend felt “manipulated, without fun” and had been the one making sheep noises. I add “or conclusion” but recognise the narrative had been carefully crafted, with deliberate impetus and omissions that left the rest up to us. And the experience, however unsupported, was immense; both Glen Neath and David Rosenberg certainly know what they’re doing.

But like my old school report card Fiction could do better, potential dear boy potential, especially as it’s the second Neath/Rosenberg production (that I know of) to use sensory deprivation. And it has to be experienced firsthand; not only would a step by step review spoil the adventure, but it wouldn’t even come close to an appropriate representation.

And as I sit on the other side of the evening, in an open bright bar, free to move liquid though my body with frivolous abandon, I still don’t fully understand Fiction. As a story, at least.

Fiction returns to mac Theatre on Fri 17th October. For further information & tickets, visit http://macbirmingham.co.uk/event/fuel-fiction/

For more on Fiction, visit http://www.fueltheatre.com/projects/fiction

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For more on David Rosenberg, visit http://www.requardt-rosenberg.com/

For more on Glen Neath, visit http://www.glenneath.co.uk/

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For more on Fuel Theatre, visit http://www.fueltheatre.com/

For more on mac Birmingham, including full event & exhibition listings, visit http://macbirmingham.co.uk/

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