Held at Testing Grounds and presented by The Liminal Space, this is not your typical theatre piece.
Stepping into the space, you know you’re in for an experience.
We are greeted by loud music, projections, ‘God is Love’ spray painted on the back wall and some of the ensemble already in the space.
We are presented with a piece of paper with ‘The Rules of the Game’’ spelled out:
Play if you want to.
Be as close or as far away from the action as you want.
Don’t touch the actors, please!
Follow the characters through their worlds.
Mysteries is explained to be a re-examination of western civilisations’ greatest mythopoetic stories. A fully-immersive transcendental journey through performance art, installation, and theatre where they re-contextualise some of the most influential religious figures in the western world.
This is not a play and not your typical theatre experience. Comfortable shoes are recommended as this isn’t a sit down show. Instead, the cast guides the audience through the multi-level space, through different rooms where they play their game.
This performance is titled ‘Creation’ and focuses on 6 re-contextualised biblical stories. A couple of those stories are clear but unfortunately some were overly convoluted and didn’t translate well, namely a particular moment where there was a dancing man with the head of a cat. Entertaining, yes. Relevant? Unclear. The ensemble was strong and moved as one. They gave solid performances and committed wholeheartedly to the story they were telling. They gave meaning to the saying ‘leaving everything on the floor’.
As a whole a lot of the show felt like we were watching an acting class, consisting of viewpoints, movement exercises and improv, and while parts did lose the audience, there was no doubt that the cast were on the same page.
This piece was devised and created by director Harry Haynes and the ensemble. The space was transformed by Juliette Whitney (Design and Scenography), James O’Leary (Sound and VX) and Olivia Fisher (Collaborating Sonic Artist) to great effect, welcoming the audience to be a part of the story. Beginning with ‘The Void and Creation’, the ensemble is in darkness screaming and making sounds overpowering everything in the space. This story introduces Adam and Eve. And Lilith. The she-demon stand-in for the devil.
Costuming is interesting. Lilith is naked, save for some tape, while Eve is fully dressed and Adam is half dressed. The rest of the ensemble is in a mix of prison jumpsuits (some with clown collars), and different styles of outfits.
The use of pouring a box of apples onto the ground was very effective and instantly let the audience know what part of the story we were up to.
The audience was then led to a small room where 2 of the ensemble were talking about their favourite types of pasta.
This version of ‘Cain and Abel’ perfectly represented a sibling relationship and provided a lot of the comedy for the show.
Then came ‘Noah and The Flood’, which involved a rendition of ‘Row Your Boat’ and the aforementioned Cat/Man. ‘Death of Cain’ followed, leading to ‘Abraham and Isaac’.
If you were unfamiliar with the bible, some of the pieces would have been hard to follow or understand what story was being told. There were moments which could have been edited down for time, indulgent private moments that the audience didn’t feel included in and repeated information.
The finale of the show is mildly confusing as to what was being told. There were some sound issues which prevented a section of the dialogue from being heard, but also the chanting from the cast and bursting of balloons made it difficult to follow what was happening.
The show ended on a monologue about love and Jesus stating, ‘The Path’ mysteriously.
There isn’t a clear through-line throughout the pieces nor a clear image of why this story was being told and in fact what story is being told.
This is not a show for those who have sound or light sensitivity or cannot move through the space easily. There were also a couple of hazards that also needed to be addressed. Cords on the floor that hadn’t been taped down properly which when an audience is being directed through a space they are not familiar with did cause a couple of trips and walking up and down unfamiliar, unlit staircases is a bit anxiety inducing. There was also stage combat occuring that didn't seem safe. There were times when the fighting actors got uncomfortably close to the audience.
This was a truly immersive theatre experience that did capture the audience's attention and showed what actors can create when they are given creative freedom to express. Haynes should be commended for the creative licence he allowed the ensemble. Nothing was off limits. The cast achieved a cohesive piece of art that was engaging to be a part of and an experience worth having.
If you haven’t already attended the show, you will have one more chance to see
‘Creation’. Part 2, ‘Passion’ is opening next week. This will be a follow on from Creation, and will follow the New Testament.
On Sunday the 20th November, there is a chance to see both parts of the show with a double billing.
Mysteries: Passion will take place on the 16th – 20th November at Testing Grounds.
Photos: Matto Lucas