Theatre-makers are used to being in control of their environment. They have the run of a building and can choose how the audiences see their work. With online theatre, that’s not possible. The audience could be anywhere.
That presents a particular challenge to Darkfield. The company made its name with immersive shows such as Flight and Coma, which strapped the audience into a shipping container for a precisely controlled experience.
Moving online, it risked losing that control, which is why Knot: A Trilogy does the next best thing. To hear this app-based audio play, you need to get to three generic locations: a park bench, the passenger seat of a car and the largest room in your house. In each place, you hear a 20-minute act.
As ever with this company, led by David Rosenberg and Glen Neath, the recording is consummately done. The binaural sound appears to come from every direction, putting you in the midst of a wash of voices, effects and music; now the roar of a passing car, now an intimate whisper in your ear.
You’re instructed to listen with your eyes closed – a reckless suggestion when you’re sitting alone on a park bench, but as long as you have the stomach, one that makes you slide more fully into the audio landscape.
So far so skilful. If only form didn’t seem to have dictated content. The first two acts are teases. On the park bench, you’re joined by a woman who doesn’t know why she’s there or even who she is. As you don’t either, her enigmatic questions are just frustrating.
You’re strung along further in act two, as the driver and fellow passenger bicker about whether they’re en route to the park or to a meeting, and whether it makes any difference if they turn left or right. Why should you care?
Only back at home does the explanation come – some metaphysical claptrap about the cycle of life and death – delivered in a drawn-out, if prettily poetic manner in a cross between a seance and a therapy group. Even if you accepted the unconvincing idea that the characters are projections of your own personality, the payoff comes too late.