Immerse yourself!

Never Ending Night

Imagine walking into a beautiful bathroom, disrobing and letting the silk pool at your feet. Strutting over to the grand bathtub, your hand sways the litter of floating rose petals and your nose sniffs the candle’s scent of black raspberry and vanilla (from Chickidee in case you’re wondering). Letting the steam vaporise all senses, you lie back and think of England Theatre Land…until your email pings and you get head dunked into the bubbles of immersive theatre!

I’ve experienced the canapés of immersive theatre (thanks to Liliom and The Trojan Women), but never devoured a full course. For some, performing can be a little heavy on the stomach. I prefer to shy away from the spotlight as my humiliating stage fright days still haunt me. However, the invitation to see Never Ending Night at The Vaults landed and I had the unusual hunger for the immersive theatre experience.

An outbreak of a new disease N3N quickly escalates into a pandemic sweeping the globe and almost wiping out humanity. Under heavy quarantine a bunker was opened, to provide food and medical aid to the few remaining survivors. Locked in the quarantined refugee section they are the only survivors in the vast government facility, scavenging to survive, creating a makeshift home for their community.

Never Ending Night 2015

Never Ending Night
The Military from Never Ending Night. Photo credit: Jonathon Vines

The instructions were: All participants must submit to full quarantine checks and decontamination on arrival…Gulp! Led like lambs to slaughter, the military officers greeted us. Private Jones (Alexandra Afryea) welcomed individuals by examining shaky hands, demanding silence and segregating the weakest links for a detour into Dr Palmer’s (Lawrence O’Connor) office…so I was summoned to see the doctor…Double Gulp! My consultation with Dr Palmer was terrifying, asking me about my health – any dizziness, aches or vomiting? I thought I would try to joke around and say I wasn’t feeling particular good, but it was met with a stern face and further questioning. Let’s just say I’m not a very good liar! Then he asked me to count backwards in threes and read from the eye test chart (Ahhhh! Every dyslexic’s worst nightmare). However, it did make me book  an appointment with Specsavers! After the ‘all clear’, I was able to join the rest and get suited and booted masked!

Never Ending Night The Vaults
The Survivors from Never Ending Night. Photo credit: Jonathon Vines

Huddling around the lone survivors, I wondered whether this was the beginnings of a mosh pit. Out of the darkness, the spotlight beamed on our specimens. With such a large crowd, I found it difficult to see and hear the actors. Desperately wanting their backstories, I scrambled for the gaps. I surrendered. Forced to appreciate the set within the darkness, I walked amongst the scattered newspapers, cardboard box flaps and plastic bags in hope to chase the next spotlight. I also stumbled across a few ‘survivors’ (awaiting their turn to perform) and watched their helpless faces. One was crouched by a bench, raiding a rucksack for food. Although this was an imagined community, I had already felt this heavy heart towards the homeless above The Vaults.

We were guided through the doors to experience their makeshift shelter.  Feeling slightly nervous to explore further, I waited for the characters to give us a grand tour – or secretly hoping for Keith Lemon’s Through the Keyhole to lighten the mood. There was a little action of a lovers’ tiff, but the audience were allowed to wander. Having this sudden sense of freedom, I became misguided. Neglecting the bonding ritual between audience and cast, these characters were like strangers. It was difficult to connect towards these wandering characters and constantly listening out for their dramas on two floors. There were some characters who I had not seen at the beginning and realised I had actually missed some of the performance.

Never Ending Night certainly shattered my sit back and relax audience mode. I do believe the quote – You only get out what you put in – applies here as an audience member. I appreciate immersive theatre appeals towards a select few as some of the audience retreated to the sofas, exhausted to follow the action. I was determined to keep my energy levels up and continued to adventure around the makeshift home. Like an annoying fly buzzing in triangles, I dodged washing lines, stopped to watch explosive arguments and stumbled across props, like an open book titled Black Comedy, left on a camp bed. Signalling the Ending Night, the characters grouped like superheroes and decided to leave the shelter and resurface as a team.

Never Ending Night spanked you into action, questioned your confidence and left you feeling vulnerable. Taking all your possessions away (including coats and handbags), you’re forced to analyse the self and reactions towards the unfolding decisions. Never Ending Night was an interesting experience and a great personal starting block to explore for the world of immersive theatre.

Big thanks to Alan Boulter

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