Seance, Darkfield. Summerhall Terrace. ****


Darkfield are back with a third venture into what can be achieved through binaural sound. David Rosenberg and Glen Neath’s latest creation, ‘Séance’, is a 20 minute experience undertaken in the complete darkness of a closed shipping container. With a running time, shorter than that of their previous production, ‘Fiction’, I wondered if this year’s offering would be able to create the same impact as the former. The answer to that, for me anyhow, was a resounding yes!

At first appearance the white shipping container, with a suited mannequin perched on top gives very little away, however on arrival, each group of 20 was given a quick briefing before entering the container. With one audience member missing, I was added to a group as the 20th audience member…minus the briefing! Edinburgh Evening News reported on 17th August that ‘Séance’ is so scary that some performances early on in the run had been pulled midway through due to audience  panic, so I’m not sure if the briefing was there from the off, but I enjoyed going in knowing nothing! 

On entering the performance space, one is met with a long wooden table, 20 red velvet theatre seats facing inwards, and 20 sets of headphones hung on picture hooks on faded wallpapered walls. The space was lit by 2 single light bulbs suspended over the table. Once the audience are seated, with headphones on, we are immediately plunged into total darkness. The kind that is so black you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. What follows I will decline to reveal here, other than to say you will question everything around you and likely emerge feeling a combination of confusion and immense unease.

Space Photograph: Andy Weeks

If I knew nothing of Darkfield’s audio trickery and 3 dimensional soundscapes, I would swear there were more of us in that container than the 20 audience members who went in. The incredible combination of extreme detail within the sound of voices, movement and proximity and the total understanding of how the human mind works allows this experience to be both terrifying and fascinating. There’s no denying that when the preacher demands we do not remove our hands from the table (a table that has been making me remarkably uneasy from the start), that our instinct has already been to remove them before his instruction. I think for the most part, my group managed to keep their hands on, though the reactions when the lights came up at the end revealed a clear picture of anxiety on many faces. 

My only criticism, and it’s not really a criticism as much as it is a suggestion for the production’s future (of which I hope there is one) is that it would be really interesting to see how the piece could be extended into a longer format. It’s so spine-tingling eerie, and of course one runs the risk of losing that impact if it’s made longer, but I definitely felt that I wanted more. Whether that want was a narrative or a development of the séance itself I’m not sure, but the adrenaline was addictive that much is for sure.