In the Beginning was the End

10:37 am in Featured, Review by EVNT

Dream Think Speak are one of the earliest purveyors of immersive promenade theatre experiences and have been increasing the scale and production values of their productions across the world since their inception in 1999.

In the Beginning Was the End offers a vast – if mostly linear – world bringing to life the many facets of Fusion International, a HAL Laboratories style Mechatronics company that is designing the future-tech solutions to solve humanity’s problems. It takes its inspiration from Leonardo Da Vinci’s plans and dreams of the possibilities of science, but is played through a lens of human fallibility and predictions gone wrong.

The opening scene plays wonderfully with that sense of anticipation that you get at the start of a promising immersive experience: a television screen shows a live (but silent) feed of an identical boardroom to the one you have been led into. On the screen there are two suited employees who welcome in a colleague just as a woman enters your own room, sits down and starts to read a set of financial results. As she drones on the visitor to the other boardroom is starting to gesticulate wildly as the two original occupants stand up aghast. The woman in your room looks around, looks surprised, apologises and says she is in the wrong room. She then leaves and you see her enter the other boardroom on the screen. The agitated man leaves that room and walks into yours.

It is the anticipation of his outburst – rather than the shouting itself, the lights going out, siren going off and backwall sliding open – that is the compelling moment. The darkness lifts and a laboratory is revealed behind you scientists urge you to hurry after them, before disappearing and leaving you to navigate the old science and technology equipment.

At this point I immediately started looking for clues, rabbit-holes, depth to the world or an emerging story behind it. Of which there didn’t appear to be any. But in all this searching I had been deserted by the rest of the group, and was suddenly able to explore with full immersion and anticipation as a result  - starting through a multitude of environments that described a 180 degree circuit of  Somerset house across two different floors.

In the mixture of shiny & modern and roughshod Victorian spaces were a huge variety of incredibly produced tableaus, produced with alternating precision and abstraction: the computer rooms felt like they had been borrowed from the UCL next door while others held boardroom tables suspended at 30 degrees or video projections that towered up out of view of a tiny envelope in the wall.

These visual disruptions were offset by repeating emblems and themes across the rooms and levels. These produced an artistic evolution to replace a more conventional narrative – so the cute fusion-bots you saw dancing and being naughty in the R&D labs were then blown up and made monstrous and silently threatening on the level above; the Siri style talking telephone that you were abused by early on were then repeated twice – once on its own so you could talk to it at your leisure and then once again broken, ripped out and with the ghost of its sentences echoing faintly to the empty room.

But it was the set pieces that really grabbed you. The opening boardroom switch was great, but not completely surprising. The other two main scenes were. I peered into one empty office towards the end, saw nothing and was about to leave again when a hand appeared at the top of the central window, followed by two arms and the rest of an upside-down gently falling office worker who drifted past the window, soon followed by another to the right and then one to the left as the entire department above you committed suicide.

You were not too shocked by this point, however,  as you had already passed through the customer service department…where a dozen or so suited minions sat dutifully typing emails of apology under the cosh of a smooth-talking Danish office manager…until one of them snapped, leaping up and shouting at him as they gradually stripped off their clothes until entirely naked. At this point they would do an almost religious protest march through the offices and to the spiral staircase where they would form up and wait for their colleagues – who were just waiting for things to calm down before repeating the same thing themselves.

Even in cabaret full nudity in London is quite rare. To have it repeated right in front of you by a panoply of nationalities and demographics was shocking, then compelling and finally just plain funny. Apart from a sense of wonder this was the primary emotion I was left with from the whole thing – which is unusual and challenging for a pervasive experience to undertake – but one that they did so very successfully. They did this partially through the use of different languages throughout the promenade (though this did impact the engagement levels as a whole) but more from simple, clever comedic tropes and Fusion International’s technologies / the grandiose people delivering it failing.