I can tell you all you need to know about The Raven by explaining how I walked home afterward bare foot through the city centre. How in one hand I carried my shoes while with the other, I madly navigated my phone to book more tickets.
My only thought was that I must see someone I love go through this ordeal, for The Raven is two performances; one that unfolds around you and between you as the stunning performers use you as their loom on which they weave the fabric of their story. And then there is the other show, the show on the faces of the sixteen guests, the show in the posture of the sixteen people who have awkwardly stepped over the boundaries of ‘audience’, tripped through the looking glass, fallen through the fourth wall, time travelled into his world and his words. What a beautiful nightmare.
Director Thomas Quirk and Producer Laura Kwiatkowski have spent three years coaxing this sixty minute piece from the work of Poe and it shows in the refined product finally brought to fruition through the Metro Arts, Independents program. Quirk attributes the success of the piece to all his collaborators and again, this is evident the moment you realise what you thought was the familiar Sue Benner theatre is actually a co-owned immersive experience. Immediately you sense that this production was truly given over to all the artists by its father, Quirk, who fostered the power of his performers and graciously lets them own it.
The chameleon production takes on every discipline as you are cajoled through the performance. Firstly it is a wonderous installation. You are invited to step bare foot out of the 21st century and into Poe’s fanciful world, the wet touch of unseen mud – the first sense that you have left your own life behind. Touch being the first of your senses gifted to you as you enter in the pitch dark carefully feeling your way with your muddy toes. You immediately sense their presence with you, but where? Installation artist, Melody Woodnutt evokes almost two centuries of collected imaginings of Poe’s opiate like works and conjures the wonderful setting that surrounds you.
When the lights come up, you find you are in the company of Poe himself, who invites you to sit at his table. There you are: guests, party collaborators, unsure where to look as the sanity of your host slowly begins to melt away. But there are other performers as well hidden away in the dark, Whitney Eglington (Lighting design) and Daniel Huey (Composer & Sound design). Their performances (Daniel mixes the soundtrack live) contribute to the sense that the story has penetrated you. One moment you are unsure where exactly the action is coming from and then suddenly you realise it is coming from inside you. Daniel draws the very heartbeat from within you and bounces it off the theatre walls.
Too soon, the ordeal all is over and I use the word ordeal purposely. Lenore is gone and Poe returns to his seat at the head of the table and quietly asks you to leave. The sixteen guests depart at their own whim and emerge from the netherworld, back into Brisbane City 2012. On this night, we came out into the pouring rain, green plastic buckets of water lined up along the brick alleyway inviting you to wash the mud from your feet and a glass of wine on offer to help re-adjust. I didn’t want to wash my feet though; I wanted to take the mud with me like a dreamer awakened from a nightmare only to discover their muddy feet in bed. It was a jarring return to reality.
The Raven is anything but theatre and everything including theatre. It belongs in an art gallery, in the library and in a museum and most importantly it belongs in you. You need not have any knowledge of Edgar Allen Poe to revel in this experience, and if you do know him you will re-live that very first time you read his work.
The Raven continues at the Metro Arts with two shows per night (limited to 16 tickets per show) until 31st March. Get in quick as hoards of disappointed people are turned away at the door. The Raven is a fantastic piece of work and deserving of all the success that comes to it. Tickets are just $20 each. Thanks to Metro Arts for keeping brilliant emerging theatre affordable!