Review: Out of the Blue Theatre’s IMAGINARIUM

5 out of 5 stars.

Confined to the safe and cosy space of my bedroom, Out of the Blue Theatre pierced my heart with their wonderful production, IMAGINARIUM. Out of the Blue has beautifully transformed theatre into a progressive, interactive, audio-immersive journey of the self. With no visual aids to help bring the production to life, you are dependent upon your own imagination. And so, the production establishes a collaborative process between listener and actor. This revolutionary creative form, which I can only describe as an amalgamation of theatre watching, meditating, and podcast listening, has cultivated a profoundly personal exploration of the unknown, which makes the impossible imaginable. 

Initially, I must admit, I felt slightly ridiculous following the instructions of IMAGINARIUM’s narrator, Harry Dean, which saw me lying on my bed, with my eyes closed and headphones in at 3pm. However, within 10 minutes, his smooth, calming voice seduced me into submission, leaving me truly immersed in a mythical and phantasmagorical voyage of my imagination. Through a series of guided ‘moments’, which I believe are not structured enough to be called ‘scenes’, I was invited to explore the intricacies of my existence: my body, my room, and the world in which I live.

This one-hour long, live virtual streaming has been created in conversation with COVID-19 and explores how the listener’s relationship with their bedroom has ultimately turned stormy through this “year of house arrest”. However, IMAGINARIUM mends this relationship through a series of unconnected, yet exquisitely melded, ‘moments’. In one instance, I was invited to re-name and personify the objects in my room, so they became reborn and re-purposed through my eyes. This focus on my own materiality asserted a connectivity with my surroundings which I have not felt for a long time.

The production calls for the listener to remove themselves from their “obsession with constant connectivity, [which] has created a tsunami of data that drowns [them]”. Instead, IMAGINARIUM, with a little help from certain objects in your room, requests an exploration of the ignored: the diversity of an object’s existence, environmental degradation and climate change, the untamed imagination of a child (which you traverse whilst stuffed in your bedroom cupboard) and the uncertain trajectory of water (which you embody by swilling the glass of water on your bedside table). This ingenious exploration of the unknown through imagination converts theatre into an inviting, tactile, sensory experience.

The Director, Haylin Cai, has translated the production into English, French, German and Chinese. This poignantly asserts an international connectivity, which is often entrenched in the theatre watching experience. You knew that you were listening to a production that was crossing nations. Therefore, you felt united with those listeners, travelling to their countries and homes and into their hearts.

However, it is Tingying Dong’s beautifully complex sound design which completely elevates this production. It is through closing your eyes and hearing the sounds of waves, robins and footsteps that you are taken to another world and you escape your reality. These naturalistic sounds underscore the complex script, which really fuels your imaginative forces.

One suggestion that I would make to enhance the production is that it should be experienced at night. At times, although I was instructed to turn off my lights, I could still see the mid-afternoon sunshine coming through my curtains. This distraction prevented me from complete immersion, so I could not totally ‘lose myself’.

For me, it was the final ‘moment’ that beautifully tied the whole production together. I was asked to stretch my imagination and think more broadly about the outside world and contemplate the existence of my neighbours. This was particularly emotional, as it re-established a connection which had been lost during the pandemic. It reminded me that I was not alone because their existence was entwined with mine.

We go to the theatre for escapism. However, IMAGINARIUM has proved that you do not need a grand theatre, expensive sets, or even to see the actors faces for physical escape. All you need is your bedroom, your imagination and IMAGINARIUM to transport you to another world.

You can catch IMAGINARIUM LIVE on YouTube at 3pm and 8pm on 28 December 2020. For information and tickets, see here.

Miriam Higgs

Featured Image Source: IMAGINARIUM // Out of the Blue Theatre

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