The Festival of Voice 2018 is off to a promising start with this thriller tale based on planes of perception and unreliable narrators, which strikes a careful balance between classic and avant-garde to deliver an engaging, thought-provoking performance. In its narrative implant, Double Vision is first and foremost a story of murder, morbosity and deception; in this it is deeply aware of the tropes connected with thriller as a genre, and does not shy away from using them. The plotline is in this respect deceivingly simple, and if a criticism is to be raised about the play at all, it is that the final twist is perhaps somewhat too obvious – the genre-savvy watcher will see it coming early into the second half of the play. Yet this is not damaging to the play as a whole, nor to its message – which, as the title suggests, has far more to do with vision and perception, in the various meanings of these terms. The performance plays both with literal vision, through the narrative device of the blind character and the underlying reflection on loss and gain of sight, and with angles of perception, showing through the visual medium how reality is filtered and distorted in different ways depending on the perspective of who’s looking at it.
To convey this message, Double Vision relies on a mixture of media, smoothly blending into each other to deliver an experience in which the audience is physically made to experience the tale of the play from different angles and through different filters. Shadows on a screen, projected images, puppetry and the voice of the narrator generate an environment around the characters that is less the real world of the cruise ship on which they move and more the mental world that the characters themselves generate through their own way of experiencing reality. When that way changes, the set-up of the play changes with it – so that the audience also experiments the change of perspective undergone by the character of Serena, and is brought, together with her, to question the truthfulness of the tale that the other protagonist, Mel, has offered in the first half. In a play that reflects on deprivation of sight, and that is suitably thoughtful in making itself accessible to visually impaired audiences, it is not surprising that – also suitably in the framework of the Festival of Voice – sounds and voices also play a fundamental part in the narrative. The musical score is on point throughout, and Lisa Jên Brown as the singer Serena, in particular, delivers a remarkable, haunting performance that acts as a thread tying the different scenes of the action together. But sound is important in other ways: through distortion of voices, echoes, ambient noise. The title of the play can be read in more than one way: as a hint to its duo of unreliable narrators, as an ominous foreshadowing, and perhaps also as a reflection on the fact that sound provides in itself an alternative form of vision. For those who do not routinely rely on it, vision may distort reality rather than clarify it.
In its programme, the play claims David Lynch and Roald Dahl among its inspirations; the former is present in spirit more than the latter, and Double Vision offers a variety of surreal and unsettling moments that are undoubtedly Lynchian in nature, though at the same time possessing that necessary degree of originality that differentiates inspiration from the mere lifting of an idea. Those who love the works of Lynch – such as myself – may have fun finding in Double Vision possibly callbacks to Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, among other things; even those who are not familiar with it will still appreciate the vaguely outlandish, subtly perturbing feeling that the play’s unusual form of narration, visuals and sound build up through the first half and deliver in its fullness in a second half.
In its approach to different forms of perception and the ways in which they alter reality, Double Vision is (no pun intended) somewhat of an eye-opening experience. It delivers a predictable plot that becomes unexpected through the tricks and twists of its narrations. It is familiar with the genres that inspired it and confident in warping them to suit its own reflections, and it is complemented by engaging, top-notch musical performance. It succeeds in imagining a different way of experiencing drama, and it is to be hoped that this approach to originality will be further built on, in the future, by all creatives involved.
Until June 17