Imaginarium – Out of the Blue Theatre

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Artistic Director and Lead Writer: Haylin Cai

Co-Writer: Harry Dean

By now, we’ll likely all have the ins and outs of our most intimate and arguably mundane room – the bedroom: every dusty corner, each bleak laundry pile and of course, every inch of those stand-offish bookshelves containing the biographies and memoirs of ‘clever’ people positioned for Zoom calls. But perhaps, just as the year comes to a close, we can transform a space within our homes into a venue we so desperately miss? Maybe we can re-imagine the space we feel safest in as something explosive in potential and a den of wonders and imagination? An,Imaginariumif you will.

Haylin Cai and Harry Dean’s immersive audio theatre, in part emotive therapy, comes with a set of guidelines to encourage a more intense and undisturbed experience. Dispense with the distrust of gimmickry as,Imaginarium(particularly for younger listeners) if given the opportunity, does wonders to calm, invigorate, and encourage a reconnection with what we hold dear.

Amidst the tides of data and misinformation we swim against, some may considerImaginariuma piece of guided meditation. However, this experimental composition of immersive audio has become a growing trend throughout 2020, particularly with a focus on utilising the listener’s sense of imagination as a comprehensive brush of limitless palettes.

And though the sky is theoretically the limits, artistic director Haylin Cai’s writing, with co-writer Harry Dean, follows a structure which leads listeners through a quasi-narrative. Not necessarily of events, but of sensory experiences as we walk, feel, and even communicate around the corners of our bedroom.

In tandem with the listener’s experiences at the hands of their creativity, Imaginarium relies heavily on Tingying Dong’s sound design and composition, quintessentially the production’s principal strength outside of Dean’s voice-over. Sharp, Dong’s audio tracks and quirks cause the brain to utilise its keen ability to construct a world around it, particularly whenever the production asks us to close our eyes and embrace our less visual senses. From cafes and rustles to sudden storms and bombastic crescendos, Imaginarium’s audio design complements the minimal composition of music it uses to accentuate the listener’s mood, rather than lead.

Playful, Harry Dean’s voice-over provides the levity to holdImaginarium’spremise, more though, it’s a soothing voice which both relaxes and encourages the listener to engage with the requests. There is an evident understanding of the script’s intentions to open up the senses outside of the obvious and recognises the sheer difficulty in staving off the temptations of phones, social media, and distractions for an hour. Dean’s nature encourages undivided attention and largely succeeds save for the blips in audio where the audience is given a speck too much free reign.

It is in these moments whereImaginariumlets itself down, with pauses that break much of the momentum. These allow the audience time to find themselves, create or re-discover but sacrifices the pacing. WhileImaginariumseeks to allow a free-flowing experience, sometimes a guiding hand is required to maintain attention.

If you’re missing the experience of the theatre, quite often we can source the roots of the industry inwards, rather than chasing expensive re-imaginings or digital showcases. Lower the house lights, book your interval drink from the kitchen, and familiarise yourself with the space you spend most of your time within. The whole world may indeed be a stage, but often the flickering embers of inspiration start much closer to home in our ownImaginariums.

Reviewed on 27 December 2020

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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