This March, Austrian illusionist and performer Philipp Oberlohr returns to the Vault Festival 2018 with Das Fest, the sequel to his award-winning interactive show Das Spiel. With an academic background in theology and mime, Oberlohr creates experiences that hang in the balance of theatre, performance art and spectacle. Das Fest, or The Celebration encapsulates Oberlohr’s signature style of meaningful audience engagement, blending both qualifications as he examines their beliefs, memories and realities through performance practice. In his latest mind-reading experience, Oberlohr creates a bilateral space to honour the past, future and present adventures within us all.

The mouth of a proscenium arch is stretched wide, revealing a coal-coloured coat of paint and a backdrop to match. Two chairs wait along with a microphone stand, exposed by means of simplicity and devoured by expectant eyes searching for secrets. Dressed in a bright white shirt and classic blazer, Oberlohr is as neat as a pin. Guarded by round spectacles, he wears a knowing expression, a sheepskin rug hanging unashamedly about his shoulders. Speaking softly against the grain of a hymn, his manner is gentle and relaxed. After a time, the atmosphere settles as he begins building a wider framework of magical thinking with the first of a series of dream-like episodes. Here, quick explosions of wit start to take shape as he begins to drift, comfortably, into the form of Sigmund Freud.

Using the neurologists’ famed clinical methods of psychoanalytic dialogue to construct the immersive environment, Oberlohr asks his audience for a memory and a challenge. Paper and pencils fly from their hiding places, with jubilation and courage scratching at the surface of the magician’s impending instructions. A woman and a man are coaxed from their seats to act as beautiful agents of today and yesterday, each receiving a black and white umbrella with which to collect the thoughts and feelings of their fellow participants. Then, nostalgia is traced with magic and monologues in an intoxicating brew of childhood ambitions and maturing dreams, each segment of the performance arriving at its own eerie conclusion before the collective web of imagination is spun further.

Oberlohr knows information about the strangers that he comes into contact with – a personal kind of knowledge that he couldn’t possibly be conscious of prior to their first encounter. His uncanny ability to hear the thoughts in the heads of his assistants is fascinating, as is the humour with which he projects these internal matters onto tangible objects. However, what was most intriguing was his final speech within which the entire production was proven to lead from one action to the next – extraordinary, given that the he couldn’t have foreseen the individual experiences of his audience members. “Never doubt yourself” he smiles, “and don’t return until you have turned your fears into new memories”. And so, the therapeutic puzzle draws to a close with a final subliminal message to our unsuspecting subconscious: a shower of all the things we haven’t yet dared to do, and the sound of Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’.

Das Fest played at The Vaults, Waterloo until March 4 2018

Photo: Daniel Haingartner