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Amusements, Battersea Arts Centre

Sleepwalk Collective

Directed by Sammy Metcalfe
★★★
Pros: An unrelenting journey of sound that unsettles your senses.
Cons: Narrative and the audience’s position are too confusing to follow.
Verdict: An interesting example of immersive theatre with well-researched and effective sensory illusions. There is clear vision, but unfortunately it just doesn’t fulfil it.
Courtesy of BAC
Amusements is the hardest kind of performance to write about because it is designed to be experienced as an individual. Ushered in to the space as one body of people, we are plugged into headphones and asked by a voice in your ears to conjure up past memories, making the journey a very personal one. As a result, what you take out away from it will be very different from your neighbour.
The piece says of itself that it explores a ‘magical combination of eroticism, nostalgia and pure animal sensuality’ but it didn’t quite manage all these things. Although the one performer stands in just one place, I was enthralled to the point where I could hear my heart beating heavily and I had to remind myself to take a breath. It’s effective and engaging and clearly some very thorough research has been conducted into the psychosomatic responses of the mind to certain stimuli. The 55 minutes is an unrelenting soundscape. While I was reminding myself to breathe, my friend was smelling the sea. With just sound and lighting effects, your body ceases to be under your own command and belongs to Sleepwalk Collective.
Unfortunately this was a one trick pony. Whilst being able to manipulate my senses in this way, the thinking part of my brain was not engaged effectively. I could not fathom a narrative – my companion did, but lost it half way through – and we were both left feeling confused and unsatisfied. Generally speaking, an audience either watches events unfold as though they didn’t exist, or is an acknowledged spectator of a theatrically narrated tale. However, Sleepwalk Collective’s treatment of their audience was a very scattered affair, so I didn’t know if I was me, an aeroplane passenger, a machine, a memory, another character she was talking to, a voyeur or someone else entirely. Without knowing how I was to relate to the piece I unfortunately switched off as a viewer. I found this sad because, whilst I wasn’t intellectually stimulated, I still had an incredible sensory experience. It could have been overwhelmingly powerful and personal had they made the relationship easier to follow from an audience perspective.
This was also the case with their approach to eroticism. Taking someone with you on a journey which is erotically themed is extremely difficult as this is an experience so personal. They did what most sexually charged performance work does, which is to try to be sexually emotive and shocking, but the effect this had was to distance the audience so you are watching them, rather than journeying with them which seemed to be their intention.
Sleepwalk Collective have mastered a practice I’m seeing more and more which is something Immer-city coined as Darkness Design, where little light is used, but the darkness and your relationship with it is manipulated to set a powerful scene. My eyes were definitely playing tricks and it was definitely done deliberately. On the actor I saw dolls, clowns, skeletons and darkness when there wasn’t any and light. I loved this, and in hindsight I still can’t tell what was my own imaginings and what was subtly created.
If you like immersive theatre, this will definitely interest you, and you should look out for the next instalment of the Lost in the Funhouse project from the company. It is a performance that grabs your attention almost forcibly for 55 minutes which is an achievement considering it’s a cast of one, who rarely moves in a sparse set, and you feel your body reacting in unexpected ways. It will stun, but probably wont be enjoyable for those who are not immersive fanatics.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
Amusements at BAC has now completed its run. 
For more information on future shows by Sleepwalk Collective visit: http://www.sleepwalkcollective.com/

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