BWW Review: Black Hole Theatre's THE BOOK OF REVELATIONS at FortyFiveDownstairs
Combining art installation, live performance, projections, opera, puppetry and augmented-reality earphones Black Hole Theatre plunges audiences into the confused and surreal world experienced by dementia-suffering Ada (Alison Richards) in an immersive experience that is both magnificent and unsettling.
The grungy performance space of FortyFiveDownstairs is transformed into an abstract home of sorts, with the furnishings representing the various rooms of the house scattered throughout the space - however closer inspection reveals that all is not as it seems: open draws face the wrong directions, a spilled handbag has exploded vertically up a wall, mirrors are used where floor rugs should be, creating bottomless-pits in the ground and objects are disturbingly not to Designer Dagmara Gieysztor has crafted an incredibly detailed setting, the most impressive feature being the cluttered mantelpiece covered in surreal objects and photographs with missing faces. Adding to the drama is Bronwyn Pringle's moody lighting and Lindsay Cox' animations, mostly consisting of dream-like silhouettes projected onto walls and floor. David Franzke's sound design is most impressive - sound plays in the room while at the same time the audience wear headphones which overlay a second track during the performance, as well as adding different sounds depending on where the listener stands in the room.
Written and performed by Alison Richards, the performance itself last 45 minutes but seems far shorter. Richards is a powerhouse in the role, delivering the confused and fragmented narrative of a woman whose mind and world are coming apart with enormous presence and dedication. Director Nancy Black makes clever use of the setting, involving the audience just enough and interaction between live performers, lighting and sound is impressively well executed. Unexpected highlights include the kitchen table exploding and melting in a cloud of smoke, and two charming puppetry numbers involving dancing teacups and floating Ava puppets performed by Rod Primrose and Bao Ghislain. The performance is part spoken, part sung, to mixed effect. Richards uses an expressive soprano register to deliver dialogue passages which perhaps serve to heighten the anxiety or emotion of the text, but this can at times be more distracting than effective and often made the script incomprehensible in the crowded space. Christine McCombe composes an eerie, beautiful score based around ambience and ostinato, to great effect.
Works of immersive theatre can be hit and miss, often falling into the trap of trying too hard to do something different. Fortunately, this production hits the mark, perhaps because the creatives realised that they had an important story to tell, and that this setting was the most effective and affecting way to tell it. The Book of Revelations is a beautifully performed and executed work of theatre that is worth experiencing - and an enlightening and somewhat terrifying glimpse of the world through the lens of dementia.