Fye and Foul’s exciting and innovative show Safe Word – part of the Illuminate Festival – is performed mostly in the pitch black and offers an intensely detailed sonic journey that puts your imagination through its paces.
Osculating between joy and pain, calm and agitation, Safe Word kept me at attention the entire time. As a seasoned Theatre in the Dark performer myself, I love to discover more pieces that are using this medium in order to move away from what is often an ocularcentric art form. With the right sound design, theatre in the Dark means you can mold even the smallest and most challenging performance spaces into any environment you like.
Darkness also has a way of awakening the senses and bringing the imagination into play as an integral part of performance. Safe Word takes full advantage of these facts, creating a truly immersive experience with a beautifully detailed soundscape that is aided by live actors moving stealthily around the space. During this piece, there were times when I was unsure of what was recorded and what was live, especially when it came to what might be viewed as “background” noises, all of which added to the intensity of the experience.
I will say that if you are looking for a play with a plot you can follow and characters with which you can connect, this might not be the piece for you. Each scene or moment in Safe Word was there to create an image in your mind that stuck with you long after the moment had passed. Many of these images were uncomfortable and made all the more visceral for existing in the imagination. I am also not ashamed to admit that there were a few points where I jumped in my seat out of shock or surprise. That being said, there were also images of laughter, so do not be put off by the prospect of being a bit tense or scared. This piece walks a delicate balance between various emotional states, shifting gears with ease and creating a wonderful roller coaster of an experience.
The only part of this piece that felt unclear was in the use of the live actors. They blended so thoroughly into the soundscape that I at times wondered why they were there. I found myself longing for one of them to speak in order to play further with the blending or dissonance between live and recorded sound, or to do something that grounded them in the room with us, the audience. Of course, I may well be missing the point. However, I do feel that the use of these live bodies in a pitch black space was, well, a bit safe and conservative. They hardly seemed to move, and the noises they did make were not as dominant as the recorded soundscape. It made me wonder what their purpose was, making their presence feel at times like a bit of a lost opportunity. However, this is personal preference and should not deter anyone from going to the piece. The quiet use of live actors certainly did not detract from the overall experience.
I am aware that Safe Word has undergone many incarnations, and will more than likely continue to change and grow. The theatrical concepts being implemented in themselves are enough to make this show a truly unique and enthralling piece that is worth experiencing more than once. I cannot recommend it highly enough.