'Ring' review or 'Curling up in bed with the devil.'
Battersea Arts Centre, Thursday 14th March 2013
Written for Culture Wars
Imagine being told a bedtime story by the devil, whilst slowly suffocating in a pitch black room. 'Ring' feels a little like that – only this particular devil seems to know you very well indeed. He has rooted out the darkest parts of your soul and is going to rip these rotten bits clean out of your chest and expose them, dripping in blood, to the rest of the world.
If that sounds a little gruesome and abstract – well, tough – this is a gruesome and abstract show. It's hard to say exactly what Fuel's show is about but it's easy to say how it makes you feel: frightened and vulnerable and horribly exposed. It's a bit like an internal ghost ride; what you find in the midst of those dark shadows is really up to you.
The production takes place in pitch darkness, with the entire audience seated and wearing headphones. It seems we're at some sort of self-help meeting with a slightly sinister tinge. A skittish leader welcomes the group and then plunges us into darkness. Supposedly this dark state is to allow us to speak openly – but it is really there to allow Fuel company to work their soundscape magic.
Sounds swirl around us, creating seemingly concrete realities that we know cannot be real. The chairs are re-arranged into a circle and we hear them crashing and scraping against the floor. Only the chair we sit on has not moved. Are we on our own in the middle of this circle or is this all an illusion?
This disorientating disconnect between sound and reality lies at the heart of this show. At first, we resist the obvious inconsistencies between what we hear and what we know to be possible. But the 3D soundscape, which is so convincing and so overwhelming, gradually wears us down. We begin to believe the little lies and, with that first suspension of disbelief, we become Fuel's playthings. We are putty in their hands and, whichever way they shape us, we willingly comply.
With the walls of disbelief broken down we become horribly susceptible to the sounds that whoosh around our befuddled brains. The unease in the room ratchets up. Initially it simply seems there is an imposter in the room; someone who everyone does not like or trust. But gradually a real threat of violence creeps in and engulfs us all. More frightening still, this threat seems to be coming from within. The person who everyone is frightened of is us. We're left sitting alone in the pitch black with nowhere left to run.