DEEP INTO DARKNESS
The Cultch, August 13th- 25th
My Two Pence
It was with a tingling excitement akin to a theme park queue that we waited in the bar of the Cultch, blood-red wine in hand, (obviously) for our hosts to call us group by group to enter 'Deep Into Darkness'. Unlike a roller-coaster this ride doesn't have a clear track; You choose your own adventure, or allow yourself to be given over to the tide washing through the building, up stairs, along corridors and through curtains. The lack of a track seemed to bother my companion and they quickly lost interest in the rudderless exploration of the space.
I thoroughly enjoyed the choreography and general character performances. In particular the apparent disregard for props and indeed us - the invisible audience was outstanding. I delighted in seeing characters crash into walls and knock over items, scrabble at our feet and push past us (respectfully) in the corridors. There was
no fear or delicacy in the thought they might trample someone, no preciousness which I could imagine a 'polite' Vancouverite expecting. I too however would have appreciated some more guidance. There was an attempt to create a semblance of order through a scavenger hunt, but some items were moved in the course of the piece and it had the faint whiff of an afterthought.
'Deep Into Darkness' is a very interesting social experiment; you must be silent, you must exist in the space and yet not exist. Somewhere early on I realized that quite apart from a traditional theatre experience where the audience observe from the comfort of their seats; this production creates the extraordinary illusion that you are a
ghost weaving on a different plane to the characters. Expectedly some 'spirits' were less disciplined than others and promptly returned to the comfort of the bar when the need for bustle and chat overcame them.
Being somewhat of a control freak it kills me to think that I missed so much, but privileged to know that I experienced moments no one else did. During the last hour I was fervently searching nooks and crannies desperate to consume as much as I could before we were all ushered to the theatre for a finale. I returned to the same spot, a locked garden shed, countless times to see if I could gain access as I had seen others do earlier in the evening - but a character refused me entry - continually guarding the door and when needed elsewhere carefully securing it with a padlock. Frustrating, but brilliant – the exasperation of being excluded will play on my mind for weeks.
I came away from 'Deep Into Darkness' wanting more and I believe this to be a positive criticism of the piece. Such a colossal amount of work and thought had gone into the Production Design and Properties that they fell short for me; the level of artistry was so detailed and spoilt us so much that when I opened a drawer and found it empty I was disappointed; One room contains very obvious plastic dolls' arms floating in jars where in another hangs a nursery mobile constructed from real bones. This juxtaposition suggests that the creative vision is there, but what this company needs is more funding to achieve their goals fully. It was so good I wanted it to be better. I'm not convinced that the Cultch, or indeed any theatre is the right space for this production. The mandate of this immersive experience is to shatter the fourth wall and unfortunately the reminder of 'performance' inherent to the two main black box theatre spaces really wrestled my mind out of my little floating ghost and shook me awake. Internationally acclaimed company Punchdrunk, a major inspiration to the creative team behind 'Deep Into Darkness' use spaces such as abandoned warehouses, tunnels and famously Battersea Power Station as the canvas for their pieces. Perhaps Vancouver hasn't the facilities for this yet and if not I hope that this production works to change that; I would love to see more theatre like this!
I highly recommend a bit of Poe-prep before experiencing this show. Read one of his short stories on the bus ride over, or at least check his Wikipedia entry – you may discover more if you know what you are looking for!