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A Midnight Visit (Broad Encounters) – theatre review

A Midnight Visit is an award-winning immersive live theatre show that, having previously been unleashed in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne, has recently resurrected in Brisbane. Inspired by the life and works of Edgar Allen Poe, the magnificently macabre multi-room experience, invites its guests to explore a dark dream world of gothic thrills, obsession, decadence and awe in a performance like no other. And not only is its experience unique, but no two experiences are the same, given its choose your adventure realisation as guests are invited to let curiosity direct their travels through a multi-sensory dreamscape filled with otherworldly characters and exquisite scenes. It could well be a house of fun, given its fluoro filled streamer room and ball pit, but like Pink’s Funhouse, the world of A Midnight Visit is potentially full of evil clowns, or at least some steely-expressioned gothic characters and thrilling tricks/treats of Edgar Allen Poe pedigree.

We begin upon entry into the dignified House of Usher Funeral Services, where among the coffins and atop a tell-tale heart beat sound bed, The Undertaker (Reagan Warner) outlines our split into distinct groups for silent entry into the other world bordered by ‘Never More’ notices. For my group, the fateful night’s experience starts where it later finishes, in an elegant dining room of yesteryear, where we impose upon the dramatic wordless interaction of a couple (Daniel Kirkby as the twisted twin Roderick Usher and his mad sister of the underworld Madeline played by Bri Emrich).

Photos: Peter Wallis

After this we are given charge to curate our own dream, as rather than a linear narrative, we path our own way through its snippets of gothic wonder by solving puzzles and seeking out hidden tunnels and secret locations in exploration of its array of rooms. There is much in which to become lost as audience members silently navigate their own ways around the surreal self-paced tour of the show’s two levels of uncanny splendours, with difference scenes occurring in the same rooms and characters appearing in new locations and situations in what is obviously a very cleverly crafted program of hours of scripted performance. In the Victorian world of the downstairs this includes a hot air balloon, a small theatre, a cushioned hooka lounge and an aerial circus performance, while upstairs surreal sights include an upside down office soundtracked by an analogue typewriter in action. As Originating Director Danielle Harvey notes, there is no best way to decipher A Midnight Visit. As audience members move on at will and their own discretion within the show’s labyrinth of extraordinary options, hoping to catch a performer in action or just in exploration of its nooks and crannies, they may just find themselves being drawn into the action … only not from the lurking, veiled black widows who appear in corners almost as if from nowhere.

Clearly, the weeks long preparation of its soon-to-be-demolished Fortitude Valley space, has represented an epic undertaking for the show’s creatives. Incredible creativity is evident in its every detail deep into that darkness peering, making its visual experience like that of an artistic installation feast for the eyes. Shadowy, evocative lighting serves as an atmospheric accompaniment, while an ominous soundscape (Composition and Sound Design by Michael Theiler) hovers its hand over an all-encompassing gothic sensibility. And Melanie Liertz’s costume design in realised in a luscious opulence of black ruffles, corsetry and passionate velvet.

Music is delicious in its morph of modern tunes into eerie ear worms. Performance artist Kristian Santic raves to LMFAO’s ‘Shots’ as jester in a primitive hospital ward while, as the show’s charismatic Raven human/animal hybrid, Gina Tay Limpus stalks a dreamer into a slow dance to a stripped back ‘Abracadabra’. Daniel Kirkby turns Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ into a paired-back and disturbing declaration and a piano play of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ entices us into recitation of ‘The Raven’ by Sho Eba as the tortured dreamer himself, Edgar Allan Poe. And while many of the show’s performers have appeared before in this once upon a midnight dreary, it is wonderful to see Brisbane performers amongst its cast, including Lucinda Shaw as a larger-than-life temperamental king.

Whether gravedigger, timid muttering creature or a creepy stone-faced nurse, the performers are all excellent and should be particularly commended for the focus of the interactions with audience members unable to react as they usually might given the region’s mask-wearing mandate. Though they show passionate commitment throughout, their shrieks and screams startle more than frighten and heighten our sensation. Indeed, the show is more mysterious than scary, with suggestion of gruesomeness and themes of death rather than jump scares.

With music, dance, theatre, circus, magic and burlesque, there is much to make the dark dreamland of A Midnight Visit a unique experience in every meaning of the phrase, best described in Poe’s own words … the motley drama, it shall not be forgot. The true choose your own adventure style means that every experience is indeed unique, as is discovered in after-show comparisons with companions who will likely have seen totally different aspects. Thankfully there is The Raven’s Rest bar for pre/post show drinks and recollections.

The impressive immersive experience of A Midnight Visit certainly offers more reward to those visitors who have familiarity with the American writer, however, it still provides intrigue for anyone who dares to glimpse into Poe’s world of fear and delight in its interesting installations. And despite the obvious irony of its recitation of Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ allegorical commentary about societal norms during pandemics, the night’s culminating ‘Gala Night of the Conqueror Worm’ is a wonderful wash of red celebration before revellers are returned through the keyhole to reality… for as is signposted near its box office, all that we see or seem is but a dream within dream.

A Midnight Visit’s extended season runs till 31 October 2021 (yes, Halloween) at The House of Usher, 95 Robertson Street, Fortitude Valley in Brisbane

Meredith Walker
For more of Meredith Walker’s writings on theatre, check out Blue Curtains Brisbane

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