By Owen James
Malthouse Theatre’s first major offering for 2021 is one of the most unique theatrical experiences I’ve had in my life. Because The Night is an immersive, gargantuan labyrinth of design that defies description, and will drop your jaw as you slowly realise its scale through your ninety-minute self-guided journey.
Writers Matthew Lutton, Kamarra Bell-Wykes, and Ra Chapman have used Hamlet as a springboard to create this abstract, intriguing world of Elsinore. The programme describes the world as “a collage of histories, politics, and dreams, woven into an alternate reality”, a concept fully realised in every inch of dozens upon dozens of macabre, dream-like spaces.
As we enter the performance space, we are asked to don hooded cloaks and pointed masks – we become ghosts, there to observe the action and not disturb. I feel like I’m inside Eyes Wide Shut or The Da Vinci Code. We are encouraged to explore – open drawers, doors, books and boxes, and search every nook for a new secret to uncover. There’s forests, gymnasiums, mausoleums , hallways of archives and hermitage galore. More doors open as the clock ticks on, and the scope of this carnival baffles the mind. How does this endless estate fit inside the Malthouse?!
Six captivating performances from an ensemble in perfect harmony make for spinechilling, intense theatre – especially when oftentimes the performers are mere inches away. There’s no downtime, no offstage, and at least one audience ‘ghost’ is watching every moment – so you’d best believe these would-be Elsinore natives are thoroughly immersed in their deformed, depraved reality. The intimacy of the venue means beautifully minute, private moments can be comfortably observed, and often shared between just one performer and two or three audience members. I delighted in watching Ophelia (Artemis Ioannides) decipher scribbled diary entries alone in her bedroom, and stumbling across Polonius (Syd Brisbane) removing a revolver from its hidden hiding place.
I’ve seen other “immersive” pieces before – I recall ‘Mansion’ and ‘Mad World’ in 2019; but any expectations I had were shattered within five minutes. If “the devil is in the detail”, then Because The Night is hell itself. Every room in this impossible haven is a feast of design, and designers Dale Ferguson, Marg Horwell, Matilda Woodroofe, J. David Franzke, Amelia Lever-Davidson and Kat Chan deserve a standing ovation for dreaming up this place. You really have to see it to believe it.
Fans of The Wicker Man, Twin Peaks, or New York’s Sleep No More MUST get to Elsinore; a beautiful, brazen defiance of our tentative, painfully lingering COVID-Normal world: https://www.malthousetheatre.com.au/