I’d like to start with something that Séance didn’t do where it probably should’ve, and that’s write a content warning. This review contains themes of sexual assault. If you have any sensitivities regarding these themes I recommend that you stop reading here and don’t go to Séance.
The first thing you’ll notice with the review for this show is that I’m not rating it. That’s because I couldn’t actually complete it start to finish and it wouldn’t be fair to the showrunners. I got maybe ten minutes through listening to the side characters of this immersive audiobook begging the main character to stop touching them before the banging and crashing became too loud. I didn’t want to damage my ears.
The first thing I saw when I entered the ticket queue was a woman coming out of the showing hyperventilating, eyes-wide, as her friends consoled her. “Wow, this must be really spooky,” I thought excitedly. How foolish I am. I’ve seen that we are coming up to Fringe’s Mental Health Weekend for Lifeline, and Séance is a great representation of how not to treat people struggling with mental health.
I came in for a ghost story, but instead I got a very real story of a man in power – the protagonist that we are supposed to trust in this brand new world of performance that we know nothing about – and he abused us. We rely on the main character to guide us, but the side characters in this story in the same position as the audience members were hurt and threatened and it was just vicious. In the pitch blackness I didn’t know if I was in danger. My logic was telling me that this is just a recording, all of the showrunners were definitely outside of the shipping crate. No one was going to hurt me. But the audio was so painfully real that I couldn’t convince myself that I was safe from this demon-conjurer and had to retreat, even though he hadn’t even addressed me personally yet.
I put the headphones on a few times later and found him whispering into my ears. Found him telling me to submit. Context obviously dictates that he wanted me to submit to the ghost, to a possession, but to a victim of assault this would be re-traumatizing. There is a warning on this show to pregnant women, to people with heart conditions. Going back into the ticket overview I now realise it also says to contact the box office if you are triggered by dark themes, but since it was lumped in with claustrophobia I misread it as scared of the dark. I did contact the box office prior to booking my ticket due to anxiety, but I was met with anecdotes that it was the easiest to stomach of Darkfield’s shipping container trio. That often audience members leave laughing. I don’t understand. Another opportunity to mention the themes involved would’ve been the briefing before we go in, which reiterates that you’ll be locked in pitch black. “Now go in and put the headphones on.”
I suppose I understand not wanting to spoil your show with a thematic warning, but as much as an assault/abuse warning would deter people who experience that kind of PTSD, it would also be a drawcard for the kind of thrill-seeking audience Darkfield invites. Altogether I just really I wish I didn’t go to this performance. I love the spooky, the supernatural, but this was completely based in a dark and violent reality. And who knows, maybe the ending fixes everything I hate about it, but I don’t care to go back and find out.
Now that I’ve gotten that out, I’d also like to mention what I was thinking in the beginning, before the ignoring-consent-of-the-characters part happened. They have a very thin veil as they ask you quite literally to suspend your disbelief at the very beginning, to put logic aside as you would with a fantasy play. The headphones were brain-blowingly loud, to the point where the sound quality was almost crackling. The vibrating table and moving shipping container was pretty awesome.
If a good show is defined by the impact it has on the audience long after they go home, then I suppose Séance was brilliant. I, however, do not recommend it.
The Velvet Card Critic