What do you get when you cross the macabre poetry of Edgar Allan Poe with a David Lynch aesthetic, set in the spooky halls of a hallowed girls’ school? A twisted game with a sumptuous feast for the senses, or more to the point, Fringe World’s fast-selling A Midnight Visit.
Part theatre, part cosplay, and part choose-your-own-adventure, this unique show demands complete physical immersion into a labyrinth of mystical, perplexing and evocative chambers.
A cast of 12 colourful literary characters shift from chamber to chamber, room to room, inviting you personally to “play” with them, or occasionally just swooning past feverishly like phantoms uttering obscure lines from Poe’s poems.
These bizarre characters look part steampunk, part S&M, and part zombie out of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video.
Sometimes these ghouls appear out of thin air, entering a door when they’ve only just exited one, often leading you into freakish environments, such as an asylum bedroom come medication time, or at a banquet hosted by bizarre characters that look part steampunk, part S&M, and part zombie out of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.
The historic setting of the Old Perth Girls’ School in East Perth is the other star attraction, a grandiose character within itself, with its 30-odd chambers breathed into life as each has been individually styled for visceral and experiential moments that drive the role-play as well as the choices the audience make. Indeed, the design, props and mis-en-scene of this production are brilliantly devised, and obviously sturdily constructed considering the number of people who have rummaged through these halls.
Set amongst three resplendent floors, you are free to roam and explore but are also encouraged to follow the action into certain rooms as the actors arrive in a timed precision to act out a scene from famous poems like The Raven, or sing a song that has been remastered with ethereal doses, such as The Police’s Every Breath You Take and Blondie’s One Way Or Another – the songs oozing a kind of twisted stalker-like vibe.
Hudson Emery – the lead actor playing Poe’s ‘Raven’ – is fairly alluring in his black feathered robe and scary Venetian-style mask, as he seductively commands your presence, not quite making contact but tantalising you with his bewitching eyes to follow at your own risk.
The actor playing Edgar Allan Poe, Nick Maclaine, brings a maturity beyond his years to a convincing turn as the poet facing death in his “midnight dreary” which becomes the intoxicating midnight dream laid out before us.
Perth actor and artistic director of Happy Dagger Theatre, Andrew Hale, plays the intriguing Inspector Dupin. Hale was in fine form when he locked only me in a room with him, interacting as though I were part of the conspiracy, while fiercely blasting any audience members who tried to enter our secret space. God forbid they should interrupt him.
Another actor worth mentioning is WAAPA graduate Bobbie-Jean Henning who reprises her role as Virginia Clemm, Poe’s bloodstained corpse of a bride. She has us fully captivated as she speaks or sings with beautiful haunting tones.
This dynamic production, while not having a set duration, can take between an hour or two hours, so don’t be in a rush to head out. In fact, hot tip, when you see the “Gala Night” you are invited to make a choice: leave the dream and exit the show or “return to the dream”.
Some media associates ended the show halfway and truly missed out on some wonderful surprises. Doors which were once marked ‘Nevermore’ (meaning not to be entered through by guests) would suddenly open to reveal fresh freakish scenes.
Encountering these previously hidden secret chambers felt like entering passage into Narnia from The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe, and you kind of pity anyone that’s left the production early.
A Midnight Visit is delightful macabre decadence, as delicious as it is perplexing. Challenged, you may be. Thrilled, definitely. Bored, never. Except perhaps when things start to get a bit cirus-y and aereal acrobats suddenly appear, twirling in hoops like the many artists we’ve seen throughout the rest of Fringe Festival.
Personally, we’d have preferred more acting out and acting up than acrobatics that could be seen elsewhere. All the same, this show is a masterpiece of interactive theatre, and we can’t wait to do it all again. ★★★★★
Annette McCubbin & Antonino Tati
‘A Midnight Visit’ is staged at the Girls School, 2 Wellington Street, East Perth until March 3, 2019.
Session times and tickets are available through http://www.fringeworld.com.au.
Photography by Iain Gillespie.