Go down a dimly-lit side road to a doorway where you are greeted by silent, masked Chaplinesque characters. They inspect you, and after much furtive gesturing and whispering, you are ushered inside. You are invited to drink a small glass of an oddly viscous liquid, and you might be fortunate enough to peruse some pages from their manuscript — secretly, of course. You are taken to your seats within the red-velvet-curtained theatre, and the show commences.
Dark forests, a terrible, unfinished story which develops a strange life of its own, a tormented writer, a mysterious, horrific fire in an old theatre, a tragic clown, a binding contract, a beautiful, yet doomed dancer, sacrifice, Mr Punch, a play within a film, a vast Kafka-esque country estate from which there is no escape. Above it all, the ominous, throbbing hum of the Factory. What is it? Most of all, how does it end? This is what you may discover upon entering the darkened corridors of the London Cinema Museum for FoolishPeople's production of Strange Factories.
Immersive theatre pioneers, FoolishPeople have manifested a live cinema production that takes you deep into the heart of a horror film, albeit a surreal one. Their work is a unique alchemy of film, live theatre, artwork and location-specific dance and lighting to create an ambient experience which, in this case, is one of mystery and suspense. The intimate, spooky setting of the Cinema Museum contributes to this state of haunting, with its many antique film cameras, and posters. Look carefully among the exhibits on display, and you might also find some of the artefacts of Stronheim's Settlement and props from the film itself.
The film, written and directed by John Harrigan, is a labyrinthine story of madness, and your perceptions of reality start to blur as the evening progresses. What is happening on the screen and around you as the characters from the film come to life? Is it all just the imaginings of Victor, the tormented writer?
The suspense is drawn out over the course of the evening, until it reaches a powerful crescendo of drama and dance, immersive theatre at its best. One even begins to suspect fellow audience members of being part of the theatre, particularly as the intimate setting within the Cinema Museum and silent interactions with the characters encourage this. Definitely a performance for the curious and those who wish to explore. Be brave and venture within. Only beware of the machines...
Strange Factories runs at the Cinema Museum until 9 November at the Cinema Museum (SE11 4TH). Tickets £28 (£25 Concessions) may be purchased here. Please note that a small part of the performance involves strobe lights. Many Thanks to Lucy Harrigan and Kathleen Behne for the complimentary press ticket.
See also: our complete Halloween listings.