REVIEW: A Midnight Visit

A Midnight Visit
Photo: Jeff Busby

You are welcomed into a funeral home. This feels right. It feels real. There’s a tension in the air, though. Mourners don’t know each other and don’t know what awaits them. Who has died? How did we all know deceased?

Everyone grieves in their own way and each audience member who attends A Midnight Visit will experience this dreamscape - inspired by the writings of Edgar Allan Poe - uniquely. Three groups are ushered into the labyrinthine space through different entrances. And then we are left to our own devices to find our way through the maze.

The first room we came across was a bedroom, dimly lit, dark green walls, rich dark furniture and a four-poster bed. A woman stood at the end of the bed, singing mournfully. We briefly witnessed this performance and then, as the woman hurried away, we explored the bedroom.

A Midnight Visit is as much about the detail in the sets as it is in the experience of performance. You are immersed into this world and every photograph or painting can be studied; every letter read. “Look behind Eleanor” one piece of paper advised, but peering behind the photograph revealed nothing.
A Midnight Visit
Photo: Graham Denholm

Immersive theatre is performance art to a fault. You might get lucky to latch onto a narrative; follow one character throughout and perhaps you’ll get a sense of what they are going through. But mostly you watch these actors have moments. We saw exquisite pieces of performance; some clowning, a glimpse of circus, a compelling partial recitation of Poe’s poem “Nevermore”.

Or you can view it as a piece of art, a detailed moving sculpture that you interact with in the choices you make. How long will you stay in a room devoid of actors or anyone else just to appreciate the furniture or the typed reports or the penned missives to lost loves?

We spent a moment in a room filled with portraits of Annabel Lee, as Edgar Allan Poe recited parts of his last complete poem, about the death of a beautiful woman. We watched a jester give birth and nurse a rubber ball. And king turn into an orangutan – which we’d been warned about in one of the reports we’d read in the first room we stumbled into.

Immersive theatre is a tricky business, though. Dramaturgy of a traditional script is a difficult enough task, but to choreograph an experience from the moment an audience enters to the moment they wake up from their dream inside the space, that is a far trickier business. And that’s where A Midnight Visit fell down a bit for me; it was sometimes difficult to get around and there was a lack of a satisfying conclusion.

The show has the occasional thrill of crawling through a tunnel or disappearing into a magic wardrobe. Spaces filled with coloured streamers and others with black feathers hung from the ceiling. There is something exciting about one-on-one moments with characters, enjoying something only for us, that no one else can see. But I spent a lot of time in long corridors behind slow-moving people, waiting for others who were coming the other way or unable to get into rooms that were small and packed. Much of my visit felt like I had just missed a moment.

I have seen a lot of immersive theatre. Each and every time I had a memorable moment of connection and saw performances I will never forget – and that was true of this show as well. If you haven’t seen immersive theatre before, A Midnight’s Visit may tantalise you. If you choose a better path, you may find more unforgettable moments. I kept missing things and now I’ll never know if I missed a great show. You might still see one.

A Midnight Visit
Photo: Graham Denholm