Double Vision – Festival of Voice: Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, 17/06/2018

A cross between a gig and mysterious theatre performance, Double Vision is an inventive, thrilling and immersive show that delivers storytelling magic. Welcomed to our seats by the three ‘Margarets’ dressed as zany cinema ushers with googly eye glasses, the audience got a glimpse of the humour that was to come, as well as the versatility of the cast. After a live, deconstructed version of the MGM Leo the lion intro – props to Francois Pandolfo for his charismatic ROARS – the trio went backstage to become their next characters, and the full show was underway.

Mel the bar manager narrates part one, as we board the Empress of the Sea, the most luxurious cruise ship ever made. Opening with a dark dream sequence in which a character we’ll meet later on casts herself into the sea from the top deck, we then shift tones and times to the lighter present, making the other passengers’ acquaintances. All comically annoying, they range from an obnoxious newlywed couple to two rich, brash American retirees. Our sympathies and affection sit with Mel, as she mixes cocktails and meets the demands of the guests, and even more so with Serena, the ship’s gentle and talented singer, who, as the story progresses, we learn is blind. Mel’s romantic love for Serena is obvious to us audience members looking in from the outside, but is not apparent from Serena’s point of view, privy to less than us. An uncomfortable feeling develops as Serena’s intentions first appear questionable, and then downright, if misguidedly, sinister. The ship’s passengers aren’t just there for the travelling and sight seeing, they’re on board for self-improvement in visual form, to receive unregulated plastic surgery from a corrupt doctor. The plot expands into murky magic realism – even surrealism – when several passengers go missing, one bandaged, one doctor, one small dog, and the narration flips to Serena’s perspective whose eyesight has mysteriously appeared, and is experiencing worrying hazy flashbacks and visions in an increasingly shadowy atmosphere.

The voice is at the centre of this production, and much of the traditional visuals of visible actors are replaced with projection art. The set was a cross section of the ship, including the cocktail bar, a floor of cabins and the open top deck, overlaid with a sheer sheet of fabric that was a platform for the projections in the first half, symbolically being ripped down in the second, when the truth begins to reveal. Olfactory senses were even incorporated during a surgery scene, when a chilling scent of iodine spread through the theatre. The multi-sensory experience made this show powerful, the telling of story in a layered way, around a plot based on sight and perception, compelling the audience to become more deeply engaged and place themselves amid the story. Among the projections, were froths of ocean bubbles, starry night skies, silhouettes of passengers and huge blinking eyes. On board evening entertainment in the cocktail bar delivered gorgeous songs from Serena, played by Welsh folk band 9Bach’s Lisa Jên Brown, alongside a live original musical score, composed by one of the shows writers, Lucy Rivers. Hannah McPake is her co-writer, both from Cardiff based theatre company Gagglebabble, who say of Double Vision:
“We love stories that delve into the extremes of human behaviour but also offer us the opportunity to laugh at ourselves. Taking an unmade Hitchcock film as the starting point we have created a brand new narrative very much inspired by the 1960s suspense and horror genre.”

The show explores shifting perspectives, putting ourselves in another’s shoes, perceptions of disability, how appearance is often not what it seems, misguided love, and the horror of unwanted change. It is also very funny, often darkly so, with vibrant performances from the multi-talented actors, who also sang and played instruments. I left inspired by the team’s inventiveness, and challenged to think about the myriad of ways stories that can be told. I’m looking forward to Gagglebabble’s next.

Photo by Rhys Cozens Photography

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