Are you afraid of the dark?
I’m not talking a room with the lights off, I mean the sort of darkness where not even the faintest chink of light exists to allow you to see your hand in front of your face. Where if you turn round, you really can’t see where the door is to find your way out. Where your eyes never actually adjust. The sort of pitch blackness that makes you feel nervous (and in my case, like I’m about to fall over). So it’s probably just as well I was sitting down.
Ring by Fuel Theatre is a psychological audio experience that takes place in complete darkness, in Battersea Arts Centre. Several rows of seats face each other, neatly laid out with about a foot of space between each seat, so that you’re not immediately next to anyone. A man dressed in black gives us a few instructions and a taster session of the darkness, offering an opportunity to leave before proceedings start – no one does. Once the wireless headphones go on and the lights go down, you feel very isolated very quickly.
The voice of the man, now standing further away, asks everyone to move their chairs into a circle.
I panic, wondering how the hell to do this in the dark without injuring myself or anyone else. There is the rumbling and scraping of chairs all around me, the murmuring of the audience standing up and moving around – I’m about to join them when suddenly a voice very close to my right ear whispers “it’s alright, Frances, you can stay where you are”. I jolt, because initially, it feels like someone is stood right next to me.*
If your name is actually Frances or Francis, I can’t even begin to imagine how bloody terrifying the whole thing would be.
This is an incredible feat of sound design, the like of which I doubt I’ll ever experience again. The rational side of me knows that I’m sat in the same spot and the rest of the audience are also sat in the same neat rows, yet I’m completely fooled into thinking that everyone else has moved to sit in a circle and the voices seem to move around from my left, getting slowly further away, moving across to the right and getting nearer. Every now and again, that whisper suddenly presents itself very close to my ear, sometimes reassuring and soothing, sometimes deeply sinister and troubling. I did for a few seconds take the headphones off to see if any of the voices were coming from within the room or if everything was in the recording. It was indeed all within the headphones.
We lurch without warning from one place to another – from a large room to a hotel murder scene (which I seem to responsible for) – there’s a barrage of questions, conversations and descriptions. With no visuals to look at or to orient you, it feels natural to close your eyes and let your imagination be directed by the audio – the atmosphere it creates is very unnerving because you have no control over what happens and even when you try to take your mind off everything you’re hearing, that loud whisper yanks you back to the situation. The final scene stood on the rotting wooden pier is quietly harrowing. Even though you know you’re allowed to call for help if you’re finding it a bit much, something stops you from doing so.
Then you’re aware that you’re now sat in a very low gloomy light. You can just make out the shapes of the audience sat around you. You’ve completely lost track of time – it could’ve been 10 minutes, it could’ve been 2 hours (we knew it was 50 minutes).
At times it does feel like a random collection of situations that don’t seem to go anywhere or have much relation to each other – it’s incredibly effective, but I would’ve liked them to use the narrative a little bit more – but perhaps the idea is to keep pulling the rug from under your feet and stop you from getting comfortable. But that voice in the ear – that is going to stay with me for several days yet…
Ring is on until Saturday 11th October 2014 at Battersea Arts Centre. Age recommendation 16+. For this tickets and more information go to: