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A macabre playground

Fringe World review: Broad Encounters Productions, A Midnight Visit ·
Old Perth Girls School, East Perth, 25 January ·
Review by Claire Trolio ·

In his 1842 short story “Eleonora”, Edgar Allan Poe writes:

They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. In their gray visions they obtain glimpses of eternity, and thrill, in waking, to find that they have been upon the verge of the great secret.

Spending an hour in the immersive theatre experience that is A Midnight Visit is, I suspect, no better explained than by that passage.

But I’ll try.

The premise of A Midnight Visit is as follows. The ghost of one of the troubled students of the House of Usher Girls School is channelling the obsessions of Edgar Allan Poe. Until her spirit (or Poe’s, perhaps, it’s unclear) is laid to rest, all who enter must suffer a series of unnerving manifestations.

Coming off a successful season in Sydney, Broad Encounters Productions have travelled West to take over the Old Perth Girls School. The grand venue in East Perth, which operated as a school from 1936 until 1962, is an ideal location for an exploration of the macabre, with its many narrow halls and labyrinthine architecture.

On arrival, you are asked to cloak your items, accept the risk of injury and suspend belief before entering a nightmarish dreamscape. You then explore the elaborately constructed set at your own pace, encountering actors along the way. Characters from Poe’s life and his works weave in and out of your experience but what you witness depends on what path you take.

Each room – I quickly lost count of how many doorways I entered and passageways I traversed – has been utterly transformed. The materials used to effect this metamorphosis are everyday – think polystyrene, cardboard, string and more – but deployed in innovative ways. The result is startling, confounding and immersing.

A Midnight Visit is an ambitious piece of theatre that makes for a fun night out. It doesn’t, however, incite an emotional connection to the characters or narrative. I felt as though I was watching with fascination rather than involving myself in the darkness. Some participants were invited into one-on-one encounters, and while I was willing, I didn’t have this privilege: I wonder what it might have added to my experience.

Entering A Midnight Visit is like stumbling upon a grisly playground for grown-ups. It’s engaging, challenging and innovative, and, whilst it’s completely immersive, you remain in control of your experience.

A Midnight Visit plays Old Perth Girls School until March 3.

Pictured top: Megan Drury in the Sydney production of “A Midnight Visit”. Photo: Tim Da-Rin.

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