Theatre Review: ‘A Midnight Visit’
February in Perth, Western Australia, means one thing: The Fringe Festival. For locals this is a time when our isolated metropolis gets delightfully weird. It’s a month of art shows, burlesque, stand-up comedies, street theatre and all kinds of experimental and quirky experiences. Fringe is the time of year where we might see a poster advertising a show with the ‘C’ word in the title right out in the open (note to the world in general: that word isn’t as accepted here as the internet has suggested, quite the opposite).
We love Fringe. We love the food trucks that materialise, we love taking the kids to see the mermaids. We love the travelling escape room. And this year we especially love ‘A Midnight Visit’.
My usual followers might be surprised by this unexpected theatre review. The usual output of movies-TV-comics-games may suggest that I don’t leave my house. I like the theatre though, especially over-blown Broadway musicals. Fringe is a great chance to see something different. We’ve already seen some acrobatics, a rather aggressive one woman circus featuring a blender, a Dali themed nightclub…all good stuff. I didn’t feel compelled to review any though because I wouldn’t know what I’m talking about. So, why am I reviewing ‘A Midnight Visit’? And why am I taking so long to get to the actual review?
Secondly, you’ll see why the context is important because I can’t say much about the show’s content. As to the first question, partly because they graciously invited me and my good wife Doctor Funk to attend the show as a reviewer. Also partly because it blew my damn mind and I want to tell people to see it.
There’s going to be mild, mild, MILD spoilers from here, so if I’ve convinced you to go and see ‘A Midnight Visit’ already then stop reading and go.
‘A Midnight Visit’ is best described as a piece of ‘interactive theatre’. That’s a phrase that rarely turns into an entertaining evening in my experience, but the premise here intrigued me. So after see the rather aggressive yet impressive one-woman circus act we drove across town to an old, disused girl’s school that shut down almost 60 years ago. Strange neon lights made some windows glow and the faint sound of a heartbeat could be heard. A black carpet lead us up the stairs to the front door.
This is what we knew at this point of time. A student had grown to adore and obsess over the works of Edgar Allen Poe and the school itself has been possessed by the spirit of Poe and his stories.
We checked in at the box office, handed over loose items and anything we don’t want lost or break and signed a waiver before having a drink in the courtyard of the school. We passed the time with an old checker board on a school desk before a door labelled ‘WAKE’ opened and a group of rather startled looking audience members came through, some looking quite shellshocked. We were then informed that it was our turn and we were ushered towards a door marked ‘SLEEP’. We were told how to identify a cast member in case of emergency, instructed not to remove the surgical masks being provided and told to go into the school. Oh, and we weren’t allowed to speak.
Everyone started filing in and following the corridor. In the lobby there was a set of stairs, so the Doctor and I decided to go this way. Surprisingly nobody followed us and by the time we reached the top of the stairs the remaining 30 odd visitors had vanished around the corner. We were alone and it was quickly becoming clear that when they said the school was possessed by Poe they were NOT fucking around. This is an immersive experience of remarkable proportions.
We won’t go into much detail from this point because this is best experienced for oneself. If you want a taster we will recap our first few moments…
The hallways are all wreathed in black curtains, which extend up to and across the ceiling. A few lamps illuminated the way froward and it stretched far into the distance. We found a door on our left partway down the hall and entered a master bedroom. A few other guests were poking through drawers and under the bed. We followed their example. One drawer was stuffed with raven feathers, another letters between ‘Lizzie’ and ‘Eddie’. A guest opened a wardrobe, stepped inside and…the doors shut and they never returned.
This was worth investigating. Inside the wardrobe was a single waistcoat and darkness. Pushing into the darkness led us to a new room where we surprised some guests as we emerged from behind a painting. They wordlessly turned away from us to look at the decor – endless paintings of the same woman. And a small jar full of human teeth I am 90% sure was real.
As the teeth had us creeped out we decided to leave the room only to encounter a ghost. Edgar Allen Poe was standing in the corridor looking on edge. He urged us to follow him, as the Raven was nearby…
I’m going to leave it there. This was a tiny, tiny part of our time in the house that featured exploring dozens of rooms, seeing many performances from Poe and his twisted creations, literally crawling through secret passages and getting very unsettled. Sometimes you’ll be grabbed by a character who would tell a story or draw you into their twisted world. There’s multimedia presentations, dance routines, monologues and a weird teddy bear room that we decided to just…not go in to.
We spent a solid two hours wandering the house at our own pace, never having the same experience when we revisited a room. Our first time through a basement asylum found us looking for odd details on patient charts and rummaging through medicine drawers for sweets. The second time we found a couple of characters and…it was a bit scary.
I have to take my hat off to the performers because they hold character continuously. There’s no scene breaks or intermissions that we could see, they have to run the loop of their performance time and time again in an enormous space. Adding to that the unpredictability of a participating audience and you really appreciate how well trained, experienced and rehearsed this cast is. Given how important they are to the immersive quality of the show, this effort is very appreciated.
Look, go and see it. If nothing I’ve said here doesn’t convince you then nothing will. Excellent work from all involved.