I went into this audio-only show with only a vague notion of what to expect. I came out with a pounding heart, clammy fingers, goosebumps, and a very disorientated head. While the experience is not for the faint-hearted, if you can sit through the first ten minutes curbing the impulse to bolt through the doors, you may well have one of the most memorable experiences at this year’s Fringe.
Fiction is born out of a melange of experiments on the perception of sounds, speech, and prompts on a person’s brain. It also explores the premise of lucid dreaming, where the dreamer is aware of the dream being unreal. You'll begin by walking into a large hall where the seating alternates, one empty seat next to each one occupied. You will be given a pair of upmarket headphones; instructions and a prelude will be on the screen in front of you. And you will, just once, be given the opportunity to leave.
Glen Neath’s potent script weaves between a dreamlike state, a deathlike state, and reality. The sound engineering is very good – using a combination of pitch black darkness and 3D binaural sounds to deliver a compelling narrative. Cast as the protagonist, you are central to the story, and are continually expected to interpret your situation without enough information to go on. There is a rhythm to the performance, with a speaker guiding you through some quiet romantic moments and some far more tumultuous ones, and there are some fabulous instances of surrealism – like the sat-nav which says ‘In 3000 miles, turn left… then right… then left… We are lost.’
But it may be a bit of a dampener if you, like me, like being in control of the situation. At times, my lack of understanding of the plot bored me – after all, it's easy to phase out in a pitch-black theatre. And while the eliciting of a startle response never gets old, over time it does come to feel a little juvenile. There are a few situations here where the same effect could be more elegantly achieved without a cheap scare.
In spite of that, the technical excellence of the production shows through clearly. Without any visual aids, each word in the script must be carefully thought-through and well-delivered, otherwise the listener will never stay engaged. It is also difficult to have a roomful of people react to one piece in the same way. But Fiction follows through on all these counts – so I enjoyed my hour of being deliberately (and literally!) kept in the dark.