Thursday, October 29, 2015
'Invisible Treasure' at Ovalhouse, 28th October 2015
Thursday, October 29, 2015 by londoncitynights
"Invisible Treasure is an interactive digital playspace, an electrifying exploration of human relationships, power structures and individual agency." - fanSHEN
I was sold! As I spend most of my nights sitting quietly in a darkened room watching theatre of varying quality, something a bit different always excites me. I love interactive events and some of my all-time favourite theatrical experiences have been in these kinds of productions. Expectations were high.
Invisible Treasure involves the audience (maybe 25 people or so) being herded into a large, minimally designed room with nothing in it except a gigantic plush rabbit. A computer screen high on the wall soon starts giving cryptic clues as to what we're to do. These are miniature puzzles: trying to make music play, doing dance moves, forming shapes and so on. This lasts about an hour or so, then you leave.
I respect the ideas and ambitions behind Invisible Treasure. It's admirable in the way it forces participants to let their hair down and fosters co-operation between strangers. It's also psychologically interesting; exploring submission to authority, leadership roles within groups and how different personality types interact with one another. Similarly, the eventual finale, when we head 'backstage' works nicely.
But the main problem is simple: Invisible Treasure isn't fun. Being ordered around by a impersonal video screen gets old fast and the individual games drag on and on - and then repeat themselves. Structurally the show emulates videogames: but though it successfully recreates their aesthetic it doesn't understand their design.
The first flaw is that the players/audience are often never certain what they're supposed to be doing. There's a couple of moments where this is clear - we're told to form ourselves into simple shapes. But largely we're given cryptic hints like "Make the sound stop." We do, but the game proceeds to repeat itself over and over with flash of red light and angry buzz - apparently we've failed. We're never guided on what we're supposed to be doing or why we're failing. Eventually someone apparently decides we're never going to solve this and the game moves on.
On a similar tack, there's a part where one of the players is summoned to a small room. We're told that she knows something. She emerges and a timer begins - with the enigmatic message: "You know nothing." (you can say that again, Invisible Treasure...). I guess we're supposed to question the summoned player but she seems as baffled as us. The timer ticks down to zero, nothing happens and the game perfunctorily moves on to the next thing. You're left wondering what the point of any of that was.
Without clearly defined rules, goals and rewards there's no sense of achievement or progress. This is literally the foundation of game design - and appears to have been overlooked.
The other main problem is technological. The room is equipped with sensors and microphones that respond to the movements inside. These are a bit glitchy - and it's often difficult to tell whether what you're doing is being picked up by the sensors. In a 'Free Play' session we discover that by waving our arms we can 'paint' the ceiling. Leaving aside that this isn't exactly cutting-edge (EyeToy on the Playstation 2 was doing this sort of thing 12 years ago) it's never actually clear how much impact we're having on our environment
There are bits that do work: though I strongly suspect these are built around the simple method of having someone watching a videofeed of the room and deciding whether we've met the criteria. I don't have a problem if the show wants to play Mechanical Turk with us, especially if the illusion's convincing. But if it's going to do for a few things just go the whole hog: ditch the iffy tech and fake the entire show.
As it stands right now, Invisible Treasure doesn't work. There's the germ of a good idea here, but neither design nor the tech is up to task. I grant that we were warned that the show was in its teething stages and glitches were to be expected; but in my opinion there are deep design flaws that go way beyond opening night jitters. This really needs a rethink.
Invisible Treasure is at Ovalhouse until 14th November. Tickets here.Tags: fanshen , interactive , Invisible Treasure , ovalspace , review , theatre