Who do You See? – Sarah Vickery and Gavin Roach and the mind’s wild ride. (Sydney FringeF Theatre review)

The most terrifying ride I ever went on at any theme park around the world was the Alien ride at Disney world in Florida. The ride started as a “tour” of a mock-up of the spaceship used in the films.  We are invited to have a quick trip into outer space, to experience the thrill briefly and say we’ve been there. We are strapped into our seats, and just about to blast off.  Then something terrible happens. Our guide freaks out and runs off. The crew start to speak to the passengers and say the process reversed and we’ve brought something into the ship, rather than blasting off. A large tube in the center of the room flashes with the shape of the Alien creature, and then all the lights go out.  The next seven or so minutes are in the dark, but there are footsteps, screams, the sounds of ripping flesh, and worst of all, the occasional breath on the neck effect, scummy water drips on the arm and flapping on the top of your head.

The scariest part of the ride happens in complete blackness, while you sit absolutely still.

It’s no secret that the best suspense films, and the best horror films are those ones where almost nothing happens, but the imagination is forced to kick in. Think Blair Witch Project, or Psycho.  The terror built up on the part of the director carries the weight of the film. Agatha Christie was a master of this, using the right about of stimulus to get the brain working overtime, as was of course, Steven King.

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The imagination has always been arts friend. You see a dramatic form of its function in suspense and horror, but it has always been arts function to stimulate the imagination enough to cause action of some sort in an individual. Whether its the simple act of being juiced enough by an image to attend a gallery showing or a theatre production, or the grand moment when witness to a creative moment can transform a life (or lives forever). It is the imagination that causes philosophical breakthroughs, scientific breakthroughs and the possibility of a love affair. We have a crises of imagination when we fall into repetitive patterns, forget to question, or engage only in passive visual stimuli.

It is this notion, of the imagination and where it can take you, that has inspired Who do you see, a new theatre experiment written by Gavin Roach, wonderfully directed by Sarah Vickery. The entire purpose of the piece is to inspire the imagination to kick in and force a kind of internal meandering, the result of which is that no two experiences of the play are the same.  This speaks to both the importance of the visual and places the emphasis on the other components of our stimulated experience, so that deprived of the visual we can immerse in sound, smell and the imagination that much more deeply.

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Be warned – this is not a passive experience, and therefore the audience have to overcome their own resistance to stimulation. Don’t fall asleep, don’t wander off, don’t get ants in your pants. This is interactive theatre and to enjoy the full weight of whats on offer, a small amount of audience participation is involved. Nothing scary or public, just the deep interaction with your own imagination that always creates some resistance at first. However, like all interactive art, you will be well rewarded for engaging.

Upon entering, you will be offered a mask, and I recommend you take it. Put it on as soon as the play starts.  In total darkness, Sarah Vickery and her team take you on a small local journey.  Several stories performed in the dark from Gavin Roaches excellent words. Roach is a fine writer and so the stories engage as they weave in and out of and around the others.  Some of the stories are simple, and some are complicated. The cast of David Griffiths, Emma Jones, Suz Mawer, Jack Michel and Christian O’Connor are clear and articulate, providing some of the sound effects that bring the stories to life.  At first you are tempted to see them, but lifting your mask will only reveal shadows and bright green emergency exit signs.

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However, it’s when you surrender to the experience that the play comes to life. I found myself at various moments, sitting on a bus in Newtown, drinking coffee in a cafe in Annandale where I once flirted with a cute barrister. I found myself running through the streets of Enmore working on my fitness, and trying to find a house in Camperdown where I had an appointment, but was twenty minutes late. The removal of the visual placed me in the experience and brought to life memories and feelings that have faded to anecdote inside the filing cabinet of my mind. But, because these are other people’s stories, intermingling with my own, I also felt a strange affinity for my fellow humanity, a shared understanding of the small day-to-day events that take place as we are working out way to something else. These are the building blocks of my life, the tiny choices and events that have formed a me I rarely engage with but always see the cumulative results of  in the mirror.

Who do you See is a lovely little theatre experience that Gavin Roach and Sarah Vickery bring to life in the most charming and deeply engaging way.  I need to give a small shout out to Designer Phillip Kolotas, Composer Toby Wilkins, Live Musical Vocals Huckleberry Hastings and Hayley Foster who bring a deep dark resonance to the experience that is as important as the acting.

Who do you See is now performing at The King Street theatre, as part of the Sydney Fringe. You can grab your tickets here.

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