'Ether Frolics' is a very effective form of immersion theatre. The audience participation is not overt: no one is cringe-inducingly pulled up on stage. But the production gives you a feeling of being outside yourself looking in. This evokes the experience of anaesthesia when one is precariously poised between physical numbness and neurological sensation. The staging takes place in the dank, intimate space in the vaults under London Bridge Station. When the lights are off, the blackness is absolute and tangible.
The action is preceded by a well-crafted monologue from real-life anaethetist David Rosenberg -- one of the three performers. What follows is a series of surreal tableaux, part staged, part cinematic, part audio, and part designed to give your own imagination free range. For me (having only once had to have 'a general') it was an interesting exploration of the simultaneous freedom anaesthesia provides from control over your subconscious and the dread of not being able to communicate or direct your thoughts coherently. The surround soundscape and slick staging (how do they manage complicated scenery changes so quickly in absolute silence in the pitch black?) made for a memorably unsettling experience.
Talking to my friend GP Patricia Law afterwards, we were impressed by the way the production 'made space' for our own imaginations. The production cleverly captured the universal aspects of drug-induced sleep: echoes of infantalistic dependence, Alice-in-Wonderland type fantasy, horror of medical blunders, muffled overheard conversations... I loved it!
'Ether Frolics' is on till 30 July at the Shunt Vaults, and then at the Edinburgh Festival, 21 to 28 August 2005.