Ovalhouse, until 14th November
Guest Review by Liz Dyer
I’ll be honest, I was a bit nervous about this one. The description of fanSHEN’s Invisible Treasure reads: ‘No actors. No plot. But there’s you.’ That’s a scenario that fills a risk-averse introvert like me with a sensation verging on panic. (Of course, it didn’t help that none of my friends were available, so I had to go solo.) But hey, it’s good to try new things, right?
Well… yes. Within minutes, it became clear that I hadn’t so much stepped outside my comfort zone as abandoned it completely. The idea behind Invisible Treasure is to see how people behave when there are no rules – and what better way to test that than to shut a group of strangers in a room, set them some video game style challenges, and see what they do. Oh, and did I mention it’s all overseen by a giant and extremely sinister bunny overlord, lurking in the corner?
So, your traditional night at the theatre this is definitely not – but that’s not a bad thing in itself, and I can see what fanSHEN are getting at. Although it didn’t take long for the group to divide into leaders and followers, in order to complete the challenges we needed input from everyone; we were never going to get anywhere by acting as individuals. That was kind of nice – we might have entered the room as strangers, but we came out, if not exactly as friends, then certainly as victorious (and slightly baffled) teammates.
The technology, created in collaboration with Hellicar & Lewis, is very cool – with no human direction at all once you step through the door, the experience is governed by cutting-edge light, sound, sensors, cameras, pressure points… I won’t give away all the secrets (although for all I know, it could be a different set of challenges and experiences every time), but suffice to say it’s impressive stuff. The only problem with the lack of any human involvement is that it wasn’t always entirely clear if or how we’d solved the puzzle. In a couple of cases, we had no idea if we’d got lucky or if the game had simply run out of patience with us, which slightly undermined the positive message about collaboration being the only way to success.
On the way out, there are questions on the walls, and marker pens, inviting us to consider and write about what we’ve seen and experienced. One of the questions is ‘how do you feel now?’ and my honest answer to this was, ‘I’m not quite sure yet’. There were some moments that were deeply satisfying – most notably when we all instinctively grasped what needed to be done and got on with it as a team. And there were a couple of sections that were actually quite liberating, if I’m being totally honest. But it’s also quite an uncomfortable environment, and I couldn’t totally shake the feeling that while we were all waving our arms at the ceiling, someone, somewhere was watching, analysing our every move and having a laugh. (Which possibly says more about me than it does about the show, but that’s another issue.)
Invisible Treasure is bold, creative and raises some interesting questions about human behaviour. It also really makes you aware of the part you play within a social group, whether that’s a good thing or not. I’m glad I took the chance and went along, and I’d certainly recommend the experience to anyone who’s thinking about trying it. But as for me personally – I’m keen to get back to the comfort of a darkened theatre, where everyone’s looking at the stage and not at each other.
I may also have nightmares about that rabbit…