‘COMA’ and ‘Eulogy’ were other-worldly.
In an empty building lot in the middle of Melbourne’s Chinatown, Darkfield Australia has set up camp, filling the area with their trademark shipping container adventures.
As experts in binaural and sensory immersive experiences, the company has continued its legacy, offering four signature shows all at one location.
For the first time in a long time, thanks largely to COVID, audiences now have the choice to venture into more than one dark escape. That is, you can choose from their whole catalogue of immersive experiences: the legendary ‘Seance’, transportive ‘Flight’, bed-ridden ‘COMA’ or choose-your-own-ending ‘Eulogy’.
Darkfield, alongside their Australian producers Realscape Productions, has long broken the mould when it comes to building and playing with one’s imagination. Manipulating binaural audio, audiences enter the shipping containers, don noise-cancelling headphones, are plunged into darkness and taken to surreal haunting worlds. The sound design and technology, which are all carefully curated to each experience, rely heavily on audiences surrendering their auditory senses to conjure the unimaginable. In one moment, it’ll sound like you’re in a room full of people who are noisily chatting away. In the next, someone has come up close to your ear to whisper a secret and it’s suddenly become silent except for their breath. Darkfield really has an expert ability in playing with the mind’s eye, to see where it wanders when influenced by a soundscape.
For this reviewer, who’s already experienced the epic ‘Seance’ and ‘Flight’, next up on the soundboard were the latest additions by Darkfield – ‘COMA’ and ‘Eulogy’.
In ‘COMA’, participants are invited to lie down in any of the three-levelled bunk beds and make a choice to swallow the little white pill that sits on a silver tray close to their ear. While (spoiler alert!) the pill taste of absolute nothing, its texture does sit uneasily in one’s throat. Hot tip, don’t bite into the tablet or it becomes a dry-powered pill that’s literally hard to swallow.
‘COMA’ positions the audience as patients in what feels like a collective asylum. Together we’ve taken the pill and we’re slipping in and out of consciousness. A low-toned male voice manipulates the room by presenting ‘copies’ of what you remembered when walking into the space, and what you should imagine. Building and removing truth as you try and recall it.
Darkfield’s signature sound manipulation makes it sound like trolleys are passing by, nurses are drawing back the curtain and flies are buzzing closely to your ear. Despite this interesting concept, ‘COMA’ does lack a structured narrative and bounds more into absurdism and abstract themes. From what one audience member may understand of the storyline, someone else may interpret it completely differently and it’s hard to really understand the throughline in this experience. Were we dead bodies? Were we being tortured while undergoing a medical procedure? Was the pill rendering us unable to move? There was a lot going on with no definitive answers.
Unlike ‘Seance’ and ‘Flight’, which really build on the physical drama of the space you enter – that is, in ‘Seance’ you’re performing a seance in seats around a table, and ‘Flight’ you’re a passenger on an aircraft, even buckling into your seat on the plane – ‘COMA’ seems to be Darkfield’s first real experimental attempt to see how far they can stretch an audience members imagination from their physical reality. That is, we know we’ve been lined up in bunk beds, but it felt like we were transported to more than just the one space in this piece – as patients in walls of other patients and on an operating table. ‘COMA’ played with the physical boundaries of space to stretch the remembered and manipulate the facts.
In ‘Eulogy’, this concept is played on even more, as audiences enter a hotel and its various rooms. For this experience, you sit in small metal fenced cages, that clink and clank as you get comfortable. A patient card hangs to reveal details on the assumed audience member’s identity for the production. As the story starts, it becomes clear that you’re an immobile patient, of the said patient chart name, who has been assigned a chaperone. Together you must prepare for the speech or eulogy that is to come in the next 25-minutes. A series of vibrations help to semiotically convey the travelling between the hotel rooms and levels, but once again, there are various locations you’re to conjure up: the inside of a hotel room, a conference room, basement and pool. A lot is demanded from the audience, in this Twilight Zone-inspired horror story.
Unlike the other experiences, ‘Eulogy’ adds a new layer of audience participation though, that makes this particular experience completely unique. A microphone is located on the front of your headset, so you’re encouraged to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a variety of questions. This speech recognition transforms the experience into a personalised choose-your-own-adventure that is really a key selling point to this new venture. In scenarios, you interact directly by vocal command, choosing one room over another, or even choosing whether to lie or tell the truth. This type of immersion takes the technology to a whole new level, presenting the audience with some sort of control over their virtual reality. It’s very clever and presents a theatre experience that’s fresh and a first of its kind.
While both ‘COMA’ and ‘Eulogy’ could use an edit on their storylines to increase the simplicity of their plots for easier audience understanding, they still both present an other-worldly escape that is completely unique.
Darkfield, alongside Realscape Productions, is filling a niche in the market, allowing eager audience members to get their horror fix. The immersive nature of these productions cannot be understated. Darkfield is presenting the most realistic audio simulation you’ll ever experience.
‘COMA’ and ‘Eulogy’ were presented on Little Bourke Street, Melbourne until Sunday, 18 September 2022. Find out more about Realscape Productions on their socials.