16 May 2016
The Last Resort commissioned by Brighton Festival is a site-specific sound journey in which artists Rachel Champion and Tristan Shorr welcome an audience, in pairs, on a journey through a barren, industrial area of Portslade beach, reimagining the location in a science fiction context. Review by Liz Porter.
Immersive site-specific sound journeys have become more popular in the last few years. Binaural technology (i.e. sound that kind of reverberates around your head mimicking space and location) presents opportunities to play imaginatively.
As a visually impaired person (VIP) I was looking forward to The Last Resort, as it looked to take the concept of a tour and turn it into a creative multi-sensory experience. To a large extent this lived up to my expectations. I'm excited when artists weave creative description with a degree of orientation to take you on a journey.
The Last Resort attempted this using characterised script and devices to put you in the mood to become an active participant − even before you arrive on site we had an idea that we were time travellers re-visiting a location in 2016, having travelled back from the year 4032. Some of their language was hilarious − especially the on-site behaviour code of conduct.
However, whilst providing a fun explanation, they missed some crucial information such as directions to the location from the nearest bus stop and details of the reality of the terrain. This is of vital importance to any audience, but more so for disabled people to be able to make informed choices around whether to join in or not.
Practical access needs to be considered equally alongside any creative intervention and woven in as part of the fabric of the storytelling. It would not take much to improve the current pre-show information and still remain fitting within a sci-fi style.
Once you reach the site you are a tourist who has come back to earth to witness a location that has been impacted by radiation. It is now safe to enter the zone, but only for an hour and we, the tourists, are amongst the first to experience this incredible tour. It's such a remote and desolate location, no-where near a loo or facilities, that I would not have found it had I not been with a companion.
Our tour began in a large blue metal container. Immediately we were met by two characters dressed in boiler suits who prepared us, warning that only 80 per cent of tourists make it back to the decontamination zone. We were equipped us with transparent poncho, headsets and character number stamps on our hands. Much as it was set up to be fun, these two individuals hadn't gotten inside a character themselves so the illusion was a tad lukewarm. But when the soundscape began, you are in.
The sound was excellent and I felt that the extremely windy beach added to the slight weirdness. You set off in pairs. I enjoyed being turned into a character and set a series of tasks to respond to and interact with. At one moment you are asked to lie on the ground and imagine a space-age fairground ride. The way the sound was configured created a disorientating sense that aptly accompanied the narrative.
I enjoyed other points in the tour: e.g. being asked to turn around in a circle - that enabled you to focus on the landscape and to really look at what was around. The present is juxtaposed with an imaginary world being created in our heads. Finding randomly hidden metal boxes and delving inside was fun, but not always as connected to the through-line of the experience as it could have been.
The series of A4 prints of space-age buildings that existed before the disaster were less engaging. It would have been more effective if the narrative had encouraged the listener to create these images in their heads.
You just have to throw yourself into these kind of experiences, suspend your disbelief and go with the flow. But instructions are important, and at one stage I misinterpreted which way to move and it took a while for my assistant to help me back. This slightly stuffed up the time flow − the tour is meant to last an hour − so I didn't reach the final destination in time for the task of finding a box revealed within the narrative.
This brings me back to the original point that access and creative intervention should be considered at the production stage. All people move at different speeds; some will need to stop and sit down. This company's fun engaging experience could be made accessible for all the family to enjoy with a bit of tweaking and more characterisation from all assisting.