Review: Eulogy (Summerhall)
Updated: Jul 28
Waking nightmares and shopping trollies in the latest work by Darkfield
If you have a pent-up Pandemic-induced urge to sit in a window-less shipping container with as little social distancing as possible, Darkfield has you covered. The company’s signature immersive audio experiences take place in total darkness for over thirty minutes, and this year they have brought three different productions to the Edinburgh Fringe. Two of them, at Pleasance Dome, are revivals of previous productions (Séance and Flight), meanwhile Summerhall is playing host to their newest piece: Eulogy.
You are in a hotel, or maybe it is a psychiatric ward, being carted about and given gentle reassurances, questions and sometimes threats which are whispered in your ear by a “carer”. As you descend further and further into the building the sounds and experiences become increasingly surreal. All the while, the audience are each sat in a cross between a shopping trolly and a wheelchair, in total darkness, experiencing everything through the uncomfortably life-like headphones.
An important part of what made their previous pieces so effective was how uncanny they were; it was perfectly possible to sit in Flight and forget that it was theatre you were experiencing and not an actual plane crash. Eulogy is set in a dreamscape, which is by its nature already uncanny. If you think this would make it easier to produce the same effect, you would be mistaken. Dreams can drop us into unfamiliar places with no context in a way that theatre can’t, and so that borderline realism is lost. Theatre can be dreamlike without being realistic, but for an immersive production like this, it becomes less about being absorbed into the experience and more about searching for clues about what the experience is meant to be.
This is a shame because the story and environment itself are intriguing and horrifying in equal measure. You take a journey from a hospital bed to a coffin, and every step of the way there is something malicious and unexplained happening. But by setting the themes of medical neglect in a dreamlike hellscape we miss out on some potentially powerful commentary about disability, treatment of the elderly, and bodily autonomy. Thrills are prioritised over themes, which is understandable for such an immersive piece, but it risks leaving a bit of a bad taste.
Eulogy is a production that questions the boundaries and limitations of its form. Taken on its ability to immerse you it doesn’t succeed, particularly when there are incredible immersive shows like work.txt and The Smile Off Your Face playing at the same festival. That said, it is the most theatrical work that Darkfield has ever put together, and it has plenty of inventive ways of storytelling and making its audience’s hearts pound. Sometimes sitting in the dark can create a whole host of possibilities in your mind and before your eyes. And sometimes, it’s just a matter of sitting in the dark, listening to spooky stories. Three stars.
Eulogy has completed its run at Summerhall.