Audiences asked to make journey into the darkness
Theatre makers often, understandably, like to keep back a few details about the show they have got in store.
There's nothing like a bit of suspense and mystery to pique an audience's interest, after all. But the show visiting Bristol Old Vic next week will be keeping audiences, both literally and metaphorically, in the dark.
Ring is a collaboration between experimental theatre writer Glen Neath and director David Rosenberg. Glen was the co-creator of Romcom by Mayfest favourites Rotozaza – in which two performers, who had no idea what was expected of them each night, would recreate the stages of a relationship using directions given to them via headphones.
David, meanwhile, was last seen at 2010's Mayfest directing the extraordinary Electric Hotel, a large-scale dance/theatre performance for up to 500 people per night, in which audiences peered into the intimate goings-on of a (makeshift) four-storey hotel, assembled from containers along the Harbourside. Neither David nor Glen, in short, are strangers to theatrical experimentation. And their latest, Ring, is about as far removed from the conventional drawing-room drama as you could hope to get.
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It's a sound journey in complete darkness, in which headphone-clad audiences will be transported across a sonic landscape, creating their own mental images before coming together again at the end.
"The show is really about how sound, and darkness, stimulate your imagination," Glen explains.
"David has been working with binaural technology, which creates a very three-dimensional sound environment.
"So, for example, if somebody stands ten metres away to my right and shouts, when I play it back using binaural technology, that is exactly how it will sound – as if someone ten metres away to my right is shouting. It adds a layer of texture to sounds."
As Glen explains, he and David wanted to gradually induce in audiences the feeling of being the protagonists of the piece.
"That was our setting-off point, and I had to create a text that was able to do that. I soon realised that the best thing to do with this technology was to amplify the room the audiences were in, rather than taking them off anywhere else with the narrative."
Audiences will spend the entire 45 minutes in darkness, listening to the voice of an actor through the headphones. And, as the action unfolds around you, you'll gradually create your own mental images.
"Being in the dark is quite a disconcerting experience – most of us are very seldom in total darkness, especially in the city," says Glen. "What actually happens is that you start to see things in the dark, and to make shapes in your mind."
Glen and David want to keep the finer details of what follows under wraps. "We do have a programme, but we don't give it out till the end – I think it's important that audiences go in without too many ideas of what they are going to get."
The loose premise, though, is that audiences find themselves in a meeting of some kind, hosted by the aforesaid actor.
As for a narrative, well… "There is an event, which becomes clearer towards the end, but it's really about the audience being in that room and creating their own pictures. It's more about the experience than any particular story. Being in the dark as a group is a bizarrely communal experience. You see your fellow audience members when you go in and then don't see them again until the lights come up at the end – but you feel that you have been through something together."
Glen acknowledges that the show puts audiences in a situation that they may find, at least initially, uncomfortable: but he hopes they also find it a relaxing experience. "I hope that this very different atmosphere opens some doors for audiences, and allows them to build up their own landscapes in a very different way to that of conventional theatre, where so often things are fed to you on a plate.
"I really enjoy those experiences where I don't quite know exactly what's happened to me, where I kind of get it but it also eludes me – and there is definitely something of that in this show. Everyone will come away with a different idea of what they believe has happened to them."