Twenty-two people gather, rather nervously, outside the entrance to Foundry Records. It’s Friday 13th, and we’re in Fortitude Valley. We all think we’re in the right place, and wonder quite what we are letting ourselves in for. The Anywhere Festival program leads us to expect a night in a mental asylum (‘Morning’), populated with characters which sound slightly familiar: Wendy (Anastasia Benham), Tink (Chloe Hambleton), and Peter (Grace Finley).
The door opens, and the Orderly (Bethany Latham) instructs us to form a line, give our names, collect a badge (and a drink voucher for later), and we’re in. The enigmatic Dr. Harken (Myles Hornstra) is already multi-tasking: playing the pianola, reading a book, and generally ignoring his audience. Dr Bell—aka Tink (Tinkerbell)—appears, and so we start our ascent into the asylum. Or rather, into the labyrinthine dark corridors of the upper rooms at The Foundry.
Ruckus Poetry Slam’s co-creators (Director Kiah Latham, together with co-creator Cameron Cliff) have drawn on elements of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, and a New York experience of site-specific theatre, to create an immersive theatrical event. The production has a hard-working cast. Bethany Latham kept everyone under control as a believably competent Orderly. Dr Bell fluttered around as a petulant and entertaining recreation of Tinkerbell as a medical doctor. And the interactions between Anastasia Benham and Grace Finley were the highlights of Straight On Till Morning.
The production design ensures that experience of each member of the audience will be different. In Straight On Till Morning, the ‘medical team (the orderly, Dr Bell and Dr Harken) variously peel spectators off into different groups—with opportunities to be a ‘fly on the wall’ in Gewendoline/Wendy’s bedroom, to observe the therapy session between Dr Bell/Tink and Peter (or is it Peta?), or to possibly even venture into Dr. Harken’s office. We all have a chance to observe, and to take part… sharing in the ‘pretend’ tea party, suggesting games to play, and taking our ‘medicine’… and also being privy to passing conversations, arguments or analysis. But as we come back together, into the rather sweaty dorm room that is Wendy’s bedroom, we wonder what information we have missed, or that other listeners may have been party to. For example, in the version of the event I experienced, I saw relatively little of the aloof Dr Harken, and was not privy to any discussions behind his office door. But perhaps this was meant to mimic the experience of inmates who are rarely given access to the secrets of the Morning asylum.
By the end of the performance, we are encouraged to consider whether such controlling treatments can work. Do patients leave because they are ‘fixed’, or because they cannot be fixed? Is to ‘come fly with me’ to go out into the world, or to ‘fly away’ from/off a tall building?
We can also consider the risks inherent in inverting the more traditional theatrical experience. Audience members may be uncomfortable when being invited in to the asylum, can occasionally derail performances if too engaged with the experience (when to take part? when to listen and observe?), and may be confused by an abrupt ending in a bar with no opportunity to draw a line under the event with applause. Equally, you may enjoy an opportunity for a different experience, and a chance to linger in a busy bar to debate the event you have just attended.
Verdict: If you like immersive/interactive theatre then you may like to try this.
Audience tip: There are a number of flights of stairs, some dark corridors, and limited seating (the floor and/or dorm beds). Make sure you pick up your drink voucher at the entrance (the show ends in the bar).
The reviewer attended the Friday 13th performance of Straight on Till Morning. The show ends 21 May 2016.