In darkness: twenty minutes, twenty participants, twenty headphones, and one container – Séance is an audio performance that will send chills down your spine. As a Halloween special, writer Glen Neath and director David Rosenberg brought their short, unnerving production to Brighton’s Jubilee Square.
Prior to the performance, Séance already unsettled their participants by its eerie set up. Those waiting to enter were filled with intrigue and suspense. In the middle of the square, a grey container was laid and accompanied on top by a white Séance sign, beside it a headless mannequin. During the wait were noises, rumbles, movements – all originating from inside the metallic container. The result was a worried, whispering audience. What was that? Are we going in there? Neath and Rosenberg successfully generated psychological mind-plays even before entering the darkroom – the show started for us earlier than we expected.
Upon entering, a long table covered the middle part of the space, with ten chairs along each side and headphone sets next to them. Three dim lights guided us into our corresponding seats. After we finished assembling ourselves and had headphones on, the door to the side of us closed – and just like a horror film – the three lights turned off, making the room devoid of light or sound. All you could hear was the recordings. We stopped being viewers, and became listeners.
The ambisonic audio gave the experience an immersive and hyperreal quality. The sound system was so vivid that it made you question everything that was happening in the space. Is this voice a recording? Is it a real person? Is the culprit one of the other 19 participants? From chilling and bewildering whispers, to footsteps approaching closer and closer to your seat and then vanishing, the show was fulfilled with petrifying moments. The 360° sound system worked symbiotically with the direct approach trait of the narration. When the voice referred to you specifically the performance was very immersive, making you forget that you were inside a container with 19 other strangers.
Towards the end of the performance however, the dim lights re-lit themselves allowing the participants to be able to look at each other. Some smiling, others looking worried, this moment broke the magic for me and snapped be back to reality. Unfortunately, this feature made me distance myself from the earlier so effective hyperreal realm that we were transported to. This showed that the darkness element of the show was as powerful in creating an unnerving experience as the ambisonic sound system.
In an anticlimactic end of the performance, I was left unsatisfied and wanting more. In a concluding crescendo of a disorientating cacophony of sounds that were increasing in momentum, the performance stopped abruptly and the lights were turned on: the show had finished. Not only was the duration too short for me – shorter than expected – but I thought (and wished) that the show had included a powerful denouement. As a result, Séance was a successful and innovative experience that hampered the senses through technology, yet it lacked a finishing blow that could have left their audiences further enthralled.
Featured Image: Brighton Dome