We have become connoisseurs of darkness. The technical specifications for It’s Your Film specify “an excellent blackout”. Interpretations of “excellent blackout” vary from hand-disappearing-in-front-of-the-face zealous to the struggle-to-read-a-newspaper phlegmatic. I remember the marvellous black felt tabernacle build in the central isle of Colchester Arts Centre, the black plastic fetish den at MAC and the fantastic technicians at Kampnagel clambering onto their roof with black paint.
It is amazing how a room which appears pitch black on first inspection turns, with a few moments of habituation, into a cathedral of light. Initially you may blunder around in these conditions but soon you can see everything, even when your eyes are intermittently dazzled by the full blast of pin-spots at four foot.
When you warn people that it’s pitch dark in The Black Maze they rarely truly believe you and cry out when the lightlock closes behind them. It’s a great and rare feeling to have your eyes open as wide as they go, as habituated they can possibly be and still be unable to see anything at all. If you don’t know what is ahead or behind you it is an intimidating experience and this is what gives the maze it’s power. If you are secure in this environment it can be curiously comforting, a less vigilant anti-New Ager might even describe it as “womb like”.
Of course both these pieces use darkness to play tricks on the eye. Visiting Big Theatre it is most often the blackness that impresses me. Hard edged light cutting across a black stage gives the chance for people to appear and disappear, illusions to flourish. What a luxury true darkness is.
We have just done our first two runs of Home Of The Wriggler at MAC. It’s great to be back at our friendly old home, but is there a worse blackout in British Theatre? Granted there isn’t a single window in the place, unlike many converted halls around the country. It isn’t the basic blackout that’s the problem at MAC; this is fantastic, it is the three great emergency exit lights that flood both auditorium and stage with a weird grey light that destroy all atmosphere. These lights are bright enough to perform minor surgery under let alone evacuate a theatre room.
This is disappointing as I have been really enjoying watching Home Of The Wriggler develop in our pitch black rehearsal space where, when performers aren’t performing in blazing light, their voices are coming from the pitch black, almost like a radio play.
My advice, if you are buying a ticket to see the show at MAC, is try and get one forward of the side exit lights.