Our memories are our most prized possession. They are a reminder of who we are, where we've come from and what we've achieved. But what happens when our memories are no longer reliable and begin to fail us? Initially performed at La Mama Theatre's 2013 Explorations season, Black Hole Theatre's The Book of Revelations is an immersive, performance installation on the disorienting experiences had by people with dementia and other mental illnesses.
Alison Richards, who also serves as writer of The Book of Revelations, delivers a strong and captivating performance as Ada as she cleverly shares snippets of her memories and thoughts through operatic moments, utilising the beauty of the sung voice to contrast the internal horrors that are unfolding. The use of Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" from The Nutcracker heightens the tension as the nightmare continues while exposing the vulnerability of Ada as she succumbs to her illness.
The set design by Theatre Research Institute and the visual dramaturgy by Dagmara Gieysztor instantly has the audience feeling as if they are inside Ada's mind, filled with various objects in which memories are instinctively created for. There are numerous cups and saucers, photos and knick knacks all placed around the performing space. While this treasure trove of delights are seemingly innocuous, there is an unease and darkness attached to each item from the way it is placed on its own or in relation to other items or how it is illuminated by Bronwyn Pringle's polished lighting design.
This strong collaborative production comes together under the watchful eye of director Nancy Black, who creates a visual and aural experience for the audience while remaining focused on being as true to Ada's story as possible. Her use of the entire performance space at fortyfive downstairs allows a large space for Richards to explore and tell her story while still creating an intimate environment for all.
The performance is set in two 45 minute loops and while audience members are free to leave after the first set of sequences are completed, it is highly encouraged to stay and watch the second loop. While initially it appears to be a repeat of the first, there are subtle changes that occur that toy with forgotten memories and doubt not only with Ada's mind but also with the audience's. Watching the sequence a second time also provides an opportunity to see the show from different perspectives and notice parts of the performance that were previously missed.
At one point in The Book of Revelations, we are told that "if this is real, you would feel something". While it may not be real, we most definitely do feel the anguish and turmoil that a person with dementia must endure. The impact of this can be quite unsettling but Black Hole Theatre explores the issue with such careful consideration where unlike Ada, you can feel safe knowing these feelings are only temporary.
Venue: fortyfive downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Season: Until 30 July | Wed - Sat 7:30pm and Sun 5:00pm
Tickets: $35 Full | $25 Conc and Student
Bookings: fortyfive downstairs
Photo Credit: Sarah Walker