Visiting Hours – Immersive theatre that satisfies. (Theatre review)

Visiting Hours

bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company

Kings Cross Theatre Feb 7 to 17 You can grab your tickets here

Images: Clare Hawley / Asparay Photographics

Just as the stethoscope transmits profound and invisible events along a semi-tactile, semi-auditory axis, Visiting Hours at the Kings Cross Theatre seeks to engage the audience in a sensory engagement that develops along the axis of a historical narrative every audience member brings to the production. We enter the play and because we ‘know’ Kings Cross has a history, we ‘know’ The Doctor without us having known him. Theatrical mediation outside the invited body authorizes a withdrawal that measures moral distance. The prohibition of physical contact that we bring with us into an interactive theatrical space makes it possible to fix a virtual image of what is occurring well below that which is actually visible. We stand in several rooms that impose movement upon us, and we have to respond, physically or otherwise. For the hidden, the distance of shame (embarrassment or confusion) is a projection screen. What we cannot see is revealed at a distance from what we can see. We the audience are the actors that have not learnt our lines, have not studied the text, do not know character or movement. Yet the play is for us, centered around us. We are in it and of it.

Thus armed, the medical gaze combines with the theatrical to embrace something more than is implied by the word ‘gaze’ alone. Within the Kings Cross Hotel are rooms shrouded in a variety of sensorial fields. Medicine shares with immersive theatre the sight / touch / hearing trinity; one uses it to diagnose and gain knowledge, the other to reveal and disperse knowing. The glance becomes a complex organization with a view to a spatial assignation of the invisible. Each sense organ receives a partial instrumental function. In immersive theatre, the eye does not have the most important function; what can sight cover other than ‘the tissue of the skin and the beginning of the membranes?’ When touched we are propelled through time to the stage, into the belly of theatre. Just as a doctor feels scirrhous masses and hears the irregular heart, we are surrounded by a kind of language that diagnoses theatre. The audience member attending Visiting Hours is now endowed (like a doctor) with a plurisensorial structure. A gaze that touches, hears and by immersion, sees.

Cleverly, writers John Harrison, Constantine Costi and Michael Costi comfortably combine the spiritual with the medical, and director Michael Dean (co directing with John Harrison) reveals in the opportunity to transport the audience member through the same psychosomatic maze. Pulsing at the heart of this thrilling theatrical experience is a love that literally travels through time and various states such that it exists as the healing basis for each event, no matter how bizarre. From the discovery of a theatrical anatomy, the audiences gaze (like the doctors) is duplicated. There is the circumscribed gaze of seeing and hearing operating on the visible surface that we are used to in a normative theatrical experience. But there is also an absolute, absolutely integrating gaze that dominates and founds all perceptual experiences. This is called froth through Ben Brockman’s light that appeals to the touch/feeling, Teagan Nicholls sound that appeals to sight/insight and Anna Gardiner’s design that calls forth light and/or enlightenment. Alongside the doctor’s eye, with all senses thus opened, the interior eye is directed upon the fundamental visibility of things and through the transparent datum of life, with which our senses are usually forced to work, we come face to face with the bright solidarity of death. Visiting Hours then becomes a structure of sorts, perceptual and epistemological commanding in equal measure, the clinical anatomy of theatre and a revealing of its invisible visibility.

In this way a kind of knowledge or knowing develops in accordance with a whole interplay of envelopes (theatrical stimulus that envelopes); the hidden element takes on the form and rhythm of the hidden content, which means like a veil it is transparent, revealing the whole between the parts. When only playing audience, theatre presents, with immersion as a choice. When being the immersed audience, theatre envelopes and the audiences existence within the action of theatre transforms. Audience becomes a patient of theatre which is the doctor, seeking to heal with a hidden knowledge the disease of human existence. Love underlies everything, but the behavior of each human, actor, audience, visitor, sits in direct response to the ephemeral nature of art which is the only cure.

Visiting Hours is a wonderfully interesting immersive theatre experience. Without giving spoilers, it is a discombobulating involvement that seeks to both reassure the audience member and invite a step into the unknown while being completely safe. Like all these kinds of experiences, it works best when an audience member gives themselves over to the event and allows it is envelop them, just as directors Michael Dean and John Harrison intend. Immersive theatre always messes with our safe social norms to our benefit. Stepping out of comfort zones, especially in the safe space of theatre, gives us a crack at a new kind of knowing. If you think of Visiting Hours as a good dose of medicine theatre that will do you good, you will have the best contact with it. The enormous, talented cast stay on point and place the audience close to the reality of the moment. They are a swirling whirlpool keeping that vortex strong as the individual seeks traction in each new room of events. Visiting Hours is a thrilling night of theatre that you will be excited to attend and amazed on completion. Take your friends and be prepared to let go and think. You will be glad you did.