Last night, I had the most unique and interesting theatre experiences at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre. Because the Night is an immersive theatre performance that takes place over a set that spans multiple rooms and locations.
The audience is split into three groups that enter the space via separate rooms; The Royal Office, Gymnasium and the Bedroom. You are also given a plain black cloak and mask to wear to conceal your identity. Each of us are free to roam throughout the space, stand or sit where we choose and to the performers, we are seemingly invisible.
The story is based on the Shakespearean play, Hamlet. One that I am unfortunately not overly familiar with and I think this is where my struggles begin. As each group enters via a different room, the play kicks off the story in three different parts. For myself, it began in the Royal Office where Claudia (Nicole Nabout), has just become Queen following the death of the King. Polonius (Syd Brisbane), enters and an argument ensues. However, across the other side of the space, the other characters are telling the story from their point of view. For me, this is already ringing alarm bells as I do not like missing things when I see a production. Personally, I need the whole, complete story to fully understand what is unfolding before my eyes.
When the opening scene ended, I was free to roam the space, read notes, touch props and interact with the sets. But where was I to go? Do I follow the actors to the next space? Do I just roam around and wait for something to happen? It was this uncertainty that left me feeling that the production was incomplete, but apparently, that is how it is supposed to be? The immersive nature of this production is truly something I have never experienced before. Standing right there, within a few metres of the performers, and yet being able to roam where I wish, is something that I will likely not get to experience again.
As mentioned, you are free to roam where you wish, however, I felt that I was constantly chasing the story around the space. I was missing things because I was fascinated by the locked section of the library, or busy trying to work out the clues left behind in the post-it notes strewn across the walls in the forest area. I could hear an argument going down and by the time I followed the voices to reach the room, it was almost over, and I missed several key plot points. It was almost as if I was sitting at home, on the couch watching a movie whilst playing on my phone. If I were not paying enough attention, I would miss something, and I could rewind and catch up. Unfortunately, with this production, if you missed something, you just had to move on. I didn’t like that at all. It left me feeling that the story was severely incomplete.
With all that said, let’s move onto the performances themselves. The cast are absolutely phenomenal and are the saving grace of this production. Each have their own stand out moments and are to be applauded for their portrayal of their respective roles. I found myself following one performer more than others, that being Keegan Joyce. Possibly because I have always admired his work and with Joyce in the role of Hamlet, I felt it the best option to get most out of the story. I am very thankful I chose this path as his performance could not be more highly praised. Once scene in particular, which takes place in the crypt, was utterly incredible. Joyce has this wonderfully expressive nature that he brings to each role and I am thankful to have seen it so up close throughout this daring production.
Because the Night is an incredibly unique and somewhat overly ambitious production. The detail and effort put into the performance space is quite the sight to behold and the passion from each performer is amazing. Sadly, that is where the positives end. Due to the ‘roam free’ nature of the production, there is no fluidity to the plot and effectively leaves it with gaping holes in the storyline. It is also non-linear, I witnessed a phone call between Laertes (Ras-Samuel Welda’abzgi) and Ophelia (Artemis Ioannides) but when I found Ophelia in the other room, she was doing something else and wasn’t on the other end of the call. It is these inconsistencies that left me frustrated. I think not knowing the Hamlet story also led to some of these plot holes, and sadly, left me aggressively unsatisfied.
Negativity aside, Because the Night is a unique production that I am still grateful I got to experience, and is it something that belongs in Melbourne. If you are a fan of Shakespeare and in particular, story of Hamlet, go and see Because the Night, as the unique nature of this production will likely not be seen again.
Because the Night is on at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre through until the 16th May. Tickets are available from the Malthouse Theatre website. But be quick as several sessions are already sold out.
For more information and tickets, visit: https://www.malthousetheatre.com.au/tickets/season-2021/because-the-night
Photography by Pia Johnson.