It's difficult to praise this production fully when it falls so short of its publicised definition. Billed as an immersive piece, I remain baffled as to how it falls into this genre. An ensemble of performers in gas-masks floating around pre-show and lining the exit seemingly broken as we left, cannot possibly be the way in which the directors of ‘Ascension’ justify it as being immersive, surely? An audience, seated conventionally on three sides, fourth wall firmly in place, simply isn't fulfilling their objective. This said, we should consider the actual definition of what is on offer here.
Fourth Monkey have come to Edinburgh filled with ambition this year. There are 3 additional pieces of work, all themed around the bible as well as the 2-part mammoth task of ‘Ascension’. With a five minutes to midnight slot, the production runs on alternate nights. My review is based on Part One of this work. If I'm being honest, the disappointment of not being delivered the type of theatre I was there to see was enough to put me off the second instalment but in a way some time to absorb has allowed for a more open reflection on what the piece actually was.
Four backpackers on a journey come across a man in a hospital gown, visually juxtaposing everything else about the design concept. This man is John who, in a violent altercation with the backpackers who leave pursued by gas-masked creatures from beyond, is blinded and left for dead. What remains is a story of John, determined to record what he encounters beyond his actual sight. Along the way he encounters a number of creations, from Jezebel to a bloodied lamb, on the road to enlightenment.
The visual impact of the set is one of disgust. It has a dirty, unkempt feel with a backcloth stretched across the stage like skin scraped from a body by a serial killer. There is a large, committed ensemble who work really hard to add an otherworldly, dreamlike quality to proceedings which when set alongside John’s hospital patient appearance is suggestive of a drug-induced nightmare. There is no question they have aimed for spectacle and impact; the performance is polished, the ensemble choreography a particular highlight, but I couldn't help but feel somewhat like an observer of something the cast revelled in. To feel excluded from an experience as opposed to empathising with any character’s situation is the exact opposite of what immersive theatre should be. This being the case, as billed ‘Ascension’ sits amongst the weaker productions in its category at this gear’s Fringe. As a polished physical theatre based piece of ensemble work however, it is well structured and presents a disturbing representation of the apocalypse.
Fourth Monkey's ‘Genesis & Revelation: Ascension' is playing at The Space on Niddry Street until 26th August