midnight.dream.sleep

Mon 3rd – Sat 8th November 2014

reviews

Ed Grimble

at 03:43 on 5th Nov 2014

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‘You will be collected from the following secret location, and taken to your performance’, read the email that I received following my assignment to review Tempting Failure’s piece, ‘midnight.dream.sleep’. As I follow a very pleasant woman, who had given me a pair of headphones to wear for the performance, I realise with some trepidation that this would be no normal piece of theatre. For one thing, I am alone in Bristol’s Castle Park at 11pm, having just been told that around the corner of a dark church, my performer was waiting for me. I say ‘me’ here, as ‘midnight.dream.sleep’ involves an audience of two people, who are given separate and individual performances of the piece, creating a uniquely intense theatrical experience.

The actress (Kelly Marie Miller) who would be taking me on what I had been told was a 25 minute walk through Castle Park (which I was also informed I could voluntarily end at any moment if it became to uncomfortable, by simply removing my headphones) motions for me to sit on a bench, before she presses play on the MP3 player that I had been told to keep in my right hand throughout the piece, and began the performance-proper. This audio narration continues throughout the night, whilst Miller herself remains silent throughout.

The narrative speaks of two strangers, and a feeling that the two of us- audience and character- have always known each other. A long, winding, and at times incredibly specific list of habits and idiosyncrasies immediately ramps up the intimacy and tension between audience and character, as the former is drawn more and more into the character that they are being forced to inhabit. Although a piece of performance theatre, the audience is far from a passive spectator. The two lovers of the narrative, audience and character walk hand in hand through the dimly lit park, whilst all the while the story continues to unfold through the headphones.

Indeed, it is understandable that the option to stop the performance is given at the start of ‘midnight.dream.sleep’. The audience is very quickly and almost without warning wrenched from the security of their role as distanced spectator, instead becoming the second half of the acting ensemble that portrays the narrative which the voice is telling. In scenes of tremendous emotional strain, and that grow unrelentingly in their poignancy, audience and character share deep gazes into each others eyes and gentle caresses of one another’s hands, as Miller’s face fills with tears and despair. The relationship culminates in a heart wrenching separation as Miller wanders, tear stricken, into the night, leaving the audience alone to reflect on the remarkable journey that they have just been taken on. To be taken so far out of the traditional role of audience member in such an emotionally charged, and physically intimate way, is a real demand- but one which gives unparalleled reward if one is willing to embrace this persona.

The narrator, the voice of Miller’s own enigmatic character, speaks directly to the listener through the headphones; the effect of which is twofold. It creates feelings of comfort and reassurance, as the soft voice of the narrator feels incredibly close to the audience, and this for me alleviated very quickly much of the fear that the build up to the piece had spawned- in turn allowing for a far more relaxed immersion in the performance. However, the voice of the narrator also becomes inescapable, something that we cannot tune in and out of (as one can with regular dialogue) but are forced to listen to in crisp clarity.

There is no doubt that the success or failure of ‘midnight.dream.sleep’ relies to a large extent on the willingness of the audience to surrender themselves to the role that is given to them. However, the driving force behind what makes the piece such a marvel is Miller’s acting. At once comforting, unnerving, enigmatic and intimate; her silent performance is flawless.

It is clear that ‘midnight.dream.sleep’ is an incredibly well constructed and cleverly devised piece of performance theatre, carried forward by some breathtaking acting talent. If anything, the audience is left wanting a more complex narrative, which never really unfolds across the short 25 minute duration.

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Ellie Taylor

at 15:27 on 5th Nov 2014

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Not accustomed to being handed an mp3 player and left alone on a park bench before a performance, I was unsure of what to expect from AMINAL’s ‘midnight.dream.sleep.’ I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it: both intimate and interactive, it was an extremely unique piece.

Being one of two audience members, I could have been joined either by actress Kelly Marie Miller or actor Jonny R. Rowden. I was met by the latter; Jonny initiated his performance by simply sitting down with me and pressing play on my mp3 player. Beginning to hear what was presumably his voice in my head, he silently indicated I should follow him. Once you have got over the dilemma of whether you should be looking at him the whole time or just walking and listening to his monologue, it is easy to see yourself in the role that has been constructed for you. You are told that the speaker believes that you have always known each other, and you have shared a deep connection. The performance completely took me as an audience member out of my comfort zone by changing the traditional role of passive spectator into someone integral to the piece.

Hearing Jonny's voice in your head was strangely intimate, so when he took hold of my hand it seemed suitable. To anyone who does not enjoy this degree of contact with a stranger, I had been forewarned that all I had to do in discomfort is remove my headphones. By the end of the play, the physical contact escalated to full on face touching, which by this point was fitting to the relationship being described through the headphones. Jonny was able to convey a lot of feeling without actually saying anything. He was extremely intense, which suited the monologue – at times I had to remember that he was not actually in love with me, and sadly, acting. His movements helped me gage his mood as well as what I should be doing through his pace or his grip on my hand – as well as the long spells he spent gazing at me. Personally, I was too awkward an audience member to return the stare for long, but what I did glimpse was unwavering and believable.

At times, it was hard to distinguish between reality and the fiction being created, which demonstrates the effectiveness of both the actor and the script. Many small details pointed both to the fact that the speaker was really in love with his addressee, and the person being addressed in my own head was not actually me. Although this could be confusing, it was also interesting to think of yourself as a character, and to hear more about who that character was.

The performance ended, he stopped touching my face and walked off, leaving me baffled and coming to terms with the fact that I did not actually share the bond that the performance created over the past 25 minutes. It was an extremely interesting experience, in which the audience is fully immersed in what AMINAL have created. I would recommend it to anyone who fancies being a different kind of audience member for a change.

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