It’s not very often that I feel a genuine chill go down my spine. In fact, until tonight I had completely forgotten the feeling of that particular sensation. But after David Rosenberg and Glen Neath’s production, produced by Fuel of Ring at the Battersea Arts Centre, it may take a while for my senses to regain any equilibrium.
Ring is a sound journey conceived and directed by Rosenberg, a theatre practitioner who focuses on the role of the audience in theatrical productions. In this new show audience members are situated in pitch darkness, and the auditory sense mixed with personal imagination takes over to construct a completely unique individual experience within the show.
Each audience member is given a pair of headphones that seem to amplify the sounds in the room. With headphones on our ears, we hear routine masses of throat clearing, chatting, coughing and laughing that are common for a crowded room. When the show begins, Michael (Simon Kane) starts to walk us through what to expect, including a brief preview of the darkness that will soon take over for the next hour. We get one last chance to leave — at this point, one woman in the audience made a mad dash for the door and didn’t return.
The blackness alone is chilling; the room is so dark that your eyes don’t adjust, and hearing takes over as your primary sense. The headphones turn out to be no ordinary devices; sounds are given an extraordinary sense of place. From the distant sound of a man eating crisps a few rows away to the sensitive tingling feeling of a delicate whisper in your ear, your sense of surroundings and reality are constructed in an unsettlingly convincing manipulation of auditory sensations. Ring is certainly nothing like listening to a radio show — instead, you are at the centre of the story. Piecing together atmospheric and verbal clues as they surround you from all sides, your unclear fate as the show’s protagonist keeps you on the edge of your seat.
What makes Ring so brilliant is how it exposes the weaknesses of the human mind and perception. It pits reality against realistic construction of reality, and common sense against physical senses. Great theatre might sometimes make you think, but Ring goes one step further — it manipulates your very ability to do so. The outcome is totally unnerving but completely thrilling, and allows audience members to share a completely unique experience that is truly one of a kind.
The mind-blowing technology of the recordings allows for adventurous theatre-makers Rosenberg and Neath to redefine and reconstruct the theatregoing experience with refreshing ingenuity. For anyone who can brave the darkness and a little paranoia, isolation, insecurity and temporary insanity, Ring shouldn’t be missed.
Ring is playing until 28 March at Battersea Arts Centre. For more information and tickets, see the Battersea Arts Centre’s website.