Review: IMAGINARIUM, Out of the Blue Theatre
4.0Overall Score

As your archetypal introvert, and having shared a bedroom with my younger sister until my late teens, I’ve admittedly managed to sustain a somewhat childish, ‘KEEP OUT’ attitude towards my room (even into my twenties). So, when Out of the Blue Theatre invited themselves into my bedroom, promising to inject fantasy and mysticism with their debut audio production, IMAGINARIUM, I savoured the challenge to surrender every cosy consistency I so comfortably rely on about this space.

IMAGINARIUM, streams online as part of Applecart Arts’ Dazed New World Festival, as a direct response to the largely indoor existence we have all been enduring for over half a year now. With a colourfully winding, yet sometimes disjointed script, whimsically performed by Harry Dean, and directed by Haylin Cai, this theatrical audio guide calls upon the listener’s imagination to episodically zoom in or out of their own materiality. 

It’s the moments that immerse me further into my space, encouraging me to see and explore the details in entirely new ways, that are the most dramatically fresh and endearing. One ‘scene’, for instance, where I’m charmingly encouraged to personify or re-christen the objects I’ve gathered to be part of my life, or another where I’m playfully urged to wedge myself into the hiding place of my wardrobe, make me feel more wholly invited into the theatrical exchange of the piece.

Partaking in these more active sections, it’s remarkable how much the usual self-consciousness of audience participation still permeates this experience for me. Wanting to drown myself out, I even turn my mirror around to erase the audience of my own eyes. Still battling shyness in this distanced, covid version of a one-on-one performance, IMAGINARIUM boldly asks how we can experience the high stakes and nervous intimacy of live theatre, entirely on our own. Being the only live, physical participant in the work, we only get out of it what we give, do and imagine, and I relish in being handed this responsibility by Out of the Blue.

Some of the more zoomed-out sections, designed to take the listener on a passive, eyes-closed journey away from their reality, are unfortunately wordy and difficult to follow. However, Tingying Dong’s sound design is extremely detailed and immersive in a wholly naturalistic way. This works well as a crutch in illustrative support of a complex script that takes its listener’s imagination from space battles to gushing rivers and mountain tops. It’s during the poetically indulgent stream-of-consciousness reels of image description, never quite completing in my imagination, that I’m unconvinced that all of this writing demands to be performed in a theatrical context, rather than just read from the page.

Therefore, it’s the more open and simple moments that blend and balance the listener’s reality with conceivable imagined circumstances that emotionally captivate the most. A final section, spent looking meditatively out of the window, that prompts endless enchanting contemplations on how our lives might intimately collide with those of our neighbours, “dancing a duet without even knowing”, poeticise this mundanity in a way that brings me to real tears.

We often turn to theatre to escape the rhythms of our own reality, or to inject a burst of the fantastical that feels very separate to daily life. But, with physical escape drifting further and further into the past these days, it’s refreshing and enriching to see theatre like IMAGINARIUM using technology to varnish an imaginative sheen of romance directly onto the spaces that seem to trap us.

IMAGINARIUM is playing as part of the Dazed New World Festival until the 23 October. For information and tickets see the Applecart Arts website.