Immersive arts are proving to be as popular as ever, even in a quasi-paranoid post-Covid environment. Whether it’s throwing yourself into an escape room scenario or being sat on the lap by a cabaret entertainer, audiences are enjoying being in the thick of the action.
One team that is making the most of the popularity of immersive and interactive art is Realscape Productions, a Melbourne-based group producing multi-sensory experiences by UK creators Darkfield for punters unafraid to venture over to the dark side.
I had already experienced the awesome adventure into sound Seance at a Fringe World two years ago. Patrons are led into a 40-foot-long shipping container and asked to sit around a table, put on a set of headphones, and place their hands on the table in preparation of a seance of sorts. It certainly feels spooky.
It was with glee that I jumped to the opportunity to try out two other pitch-black adventures by Darkfield, with ‘Flight’ and ‘Coma’ both currently stationed in Perth.
With Flight, patrons are welcomed on board a simulated aircraft. Impressively, the fit-out is of an actual front section of a plane, complete with PVC upholstered seats, drop-down tray tables, mini monitors and cabin crew on camera giving us instructions.
The lights are dimmed – just as they eventually are on a usual plane – and with headphones on, you are suddenly subjected to a twisted mix of airline speak (“Please fasten your seatbelts”; “We’ll be going through some turbulence”… that kind of thing) and a surreal narrative adventure (many a mention of dying versus surviving).
But it’s the physical effects that really impressed me with Flight. When the plane starts to go through more turbulence than you’d like, the vibrations of your seat feel kind of wow. Unless of course I imagined the vibrations, which would mean kudos to the effective (and loud) sound effects.
I also suspected some olfactory stimulation was being thrown into the mix, because the cabin smelt very much like a plane does: that mix of plastic, fuel and stale airconditioning. Amazing.
Produced in what seems to be quadrophonic sound, the narrator’s voice and other actors’ voices in any Darkfield experience, can sometimes appear over-acted. This kind of dampens the experience. I’d have preferred if things were more realistic and less surreal – perhaps more gaps between the talking – so that when a bump happens, it really alarms you.
Post-Flight, we had a 15-minute break and then ventured into the scarily titled Coma experience. This was set up as a kind of army hospital base, with 15 bunk beds on either side of the shipping container, fitting 30 comfortably with a “full house”.
Immediately after laying back in the bunk beds, patrons are asked to swallow a small pill sitting in a silver tray just above their heads. Tentatively, I sucked and swallowed the chalky substance – a placebo according to the narrator. But soon enough, strange sensations made it seem as though I was hallucinating, including a very strong scent of almond essence or marzipan. I almost had to sneeze, and felt sorry for anyone that might have a nut allergy, that is if smells are something that might set them off.
The narration in Coma, once again, seemed a little contrived and strained. In fact, the overall adventure might be better if we could hear a few Aussie accents instead of stern British ones.
Nonetheless, if you like a little danger in your artistic adventure, you’re sure to enjoy both Coma and Flight.
Audio artists Glen Neath and David Rosenberg – the duo behind Darkfield – have done a damn good job in exploring emotions such as anxiety, tension and fear. Hopefully they’ll tweak the olfactory stimuli, maybe thrown in a few ‘ghost train’ like physical scares, and then we’ll really be talking.
★★★★ for Flight.
★★★ 1/2 for Coma.
‘Flight’ and ‘Coma’ are both on at the Perth Cultural Centre, Northbridge.
Visit www.darkfield.com.au to purchase tickets.