“The person next to you could be screaming and you wouldn’t hear them,” says producer Nathan Alexander, explaining how participants in the Séance experience sit on either side of a long table wearing noise-cancelling headphones.
“You get plunged into complete darkness and the show takes place.
“Without giving too much away, you are part of a séance that is taking place and things happen along the way.”
Those “things” include the playing of sounds recorded using binaural technology, which some theatre-goers will have experienced during UK company Complicite’s production The Encounter at last year’s Adelaide Festival. This results in a disorientating 3D listening experience where it seems the sound is happening in real time around you.
“The sounds that you would hear in there are what you might hear if something was happening in the container … which is kind of where the spookiness comes in,” Alexander explains.
“It sounds so realistic that you lose the sense of what is real and what is coming out of the headphones … because you have no spacial awareness, you feel that there are things happening.”
Séance was created by UK company Darkfield, which says it “explores the psychology of a group of people who have been bombarded with suggestible material”. British reviewers have variously described it as “brilliant, mischievous audio trickery”, “completely absorbing, spine-tingling” and “deliciously eerie fun”.
The show has been brought to Australia by Alexander’s Melbourne-based Realscape Productions and will be at the Garden of Unearthly Delights throughout the Adelaide Fringe, from February 15 until March 19.
Each show runs for around 15 minutes, with up to 26 participants sitting on old theatre seats opposite each other at a long table.
The shipping container is soundproofed, and complete darkness is an essential element of the experience: one person at a Sydney show was wearing glow-in-the-dark nail polish, so had to have their fingers gaffer-taped up.
“There have been quite a few instances now where people do freak out,” Alexander says.
“We had somebody in Melbourne who was sitting at the end of the table and climbed across the table in complete darkness to get out.
“It’s an intense show, so we do have a warning – if you are claustrophobic or scared of the dark or have heart conditions or back issues then you should sit it out because it’s probably not going to be enjoyable.”
“There is a special effect,” he says.
“And because all your senses are heightened and you’re in complete darkness, you do tend to clench your muscles … that can cause back issues, too.”
Alexander first saw the show at Edinburgh Fringe and thought it was just the kind of immersive experience he would like to bring to Australia.
But he admits he found it “very intense”, because strangely, for someone who likes scaring other people, he doesn’t much care for being scared himself.
“When we do our sound checks … and we have the headphones on testing the sound, there are moments where I’ve turned and I think there’s someone in the room … it still catches me out every time.”
Séance will be in the Garden of Unearthly Delights during the 2018 Adelaide Fringe.