Tuesday, February 19, 2008

the masque of the red button?

I treat 'high-culture' like a baby does his dinner: Thoroughly excited about it when it suits me and then quickly bored. I don't know. Blame MTV.

Last week however, I experienced something that literally got my heart racing in a way no visit to the Tate or spoonful of apple puree could. I went to The Masque Of The Red Death, an immersive theatre production at the Battersea Arts Centre. Based on the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe.

I was in two minds about posting about it, because my experience was certainly heightened by knowing nothing until I walked through the curtain. If you think you might go (apparently it comes to New York soon) then stop reading this now and just go!

For a full-ish review check this. It calls TMOTRD 'immersive theatre', but the word immersive doesn't do this justice. That's like calling TV 'interactive' when a red button icon flashes up. I'll try to find words that go some way to infecting you with the wonderful experience I had.

I'll break the experience into two observations. The first is about the narrative. The best way I can describe the sense of narrative is like a piece of music in a dream. You drift in and out of it (literally) as you make your own journey through the passages and hidden rooms. The trade-off with this more intimate approach is that dialogue is minimal and disorientating. I confess to have picked up very little of what was unfolding and yet it had its ghoulish claws around my gut every step of the way.

Then there is your part in this experience. Every audience member - who is wondering through the venue as an observer - wears the same mask. See above. It is a simple, powerful prop that makes everyone anonymous but also pulls you together like a hoard of ghosts, observing as a silent unit. In fact this was the single most amazing part of the evening for me: Feeling like a ghost; able to walk anyway, move around the actors, look them in the eye with the impression that I was invisible. I even found myself half-playing a character. I would chase actors down dark, winding staircases (not something I would do normally) and hover in the doorway as they burst into tears or embraced their lover.

Can your red button on your TV do that?

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