Séance is a show that eschews the bright lights and fun colours synonymous with Fringe. The premise is deceptively simple—twenty minutes of total darkness, just enough time to face your fears. It’s less of a show and more of a horror-themed experience created through a clever use of auditory and tactile storytelling.
I admit, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d gotten myself into, and that was probably a good thing. To preface—I like to describe myself as a tentative horror fan. I’m fond of the genre, but I’ve got a nervous disposition. That’s code for ‘I watch horror movies by peeking around my friends and/or partner.’
So clearly I’m not your average audience member, and that’s important because this show only works if it scares you—or if you find this sort of thing interesting.
It’s hard to talk about Séance without spoilers, especially considering it’s only twenty minutes long. You’ve been warned; spoilers lie ahead. Skip to the last paragraph if you want my thoughts without them.
The venue is easy to find—it’s just a shipping crate labelled Séance sitting on the edge of Perth’s Cultural Centre. When I stepped inside, I was greeted with a set that can be described as either cramped or intimate, depending on your point of view. It’s quite simple—just a long wooden table bordered with two rows of red velvet chairs.
As we take our seats, we are told to put on pair of headphones. This is the primary medium through which the show is conducted. Next, we are given a warning; turn off all phones, watches, anything that might produce light and ruin the effect. Then, once everyone is settled, the show begins as we are plunged into total darkness.
I cannot see a blessed thing and it’s unnerving. Then, to my right; a door opening. Footsteps approach, creaking over floorboards that aren’t there. It’s hard to tell that this is all coming from my headphones; it sounds too close, too real.
The confusion between whether what you’re hearing is diegetic or non-diegetic is critical. Because, out of the darkness, a man begins to speak. He sounds close, as if he stands a few paces from my chair in a big, echoing room—which is impossible, considering the size of the shipping crate I’m sitting in.
But that’s the trick of this show; in total darkness, without visual stimuli, your brain thinks these sounds are really being made by people moving around you.
The premise is unsurprising; we are now all participants in a séance.
I must admit, I found this section particularly unsettling because it is designed to sound like your fellow audience members are being called on, one by one. This feeling was not helped by the fact that the first name called upon was my own—and I will admit that I jumped when I heard it. In all honesty, the idea of audience participation was almost more terrifying to me than the actual scares.
You are, however, asked to put your hand on the table in front of you. You mustn’t take it off, the man warns—that would let the spirits out.
The table quivers and shakes under my hand, which is a neat effect, and I can’t help but think that it’s a good thing that I can take notes one-handed.
And, of course, we end up getting in touch with the spirit world. If you’re genre-savvy enough, I’m sure you can predict what happens next—the spirit we’ve summoned gets loose. This is explicitly my fault, because when someone in my ear yelled at me to take my hand off the table, I complied. By this point the world around me is shaking and I can hear screaming and the shattering of glass. There’s a dull roar in the background, and something growling.
And then, behind me: a rasping breath.
If you’re a fan of ASMR, you’ll love this part of the show, but I didn’t—I could feel my whole body tense, bracing as if it there were a genuine threat behind me.
And as this voice behind me begins to speak, I am informed that I am the spirit’s ideal candidate for possession. I will never be lonely again, I am told (and I know it’s supposed to be a threat but I nearly laugh because hey! I’ve got a new best friend!) and then the show fades away to the sound of a heartbeat thudding away in my ears.
The lights blink on, and that’s it, it’s over.
While I can safely say that it scared me, Séance has two main drawbacks; its length and its predictable plot. It’s short, and while I can understand why, I think even ten or fifteen minutes more might help it justify paying its ticket price.
And yes, the plot is more than a little unsurprising, and while that’s not a bad thing, this show requires that your suspension of disbelief is never broken. If you start to roll your eyes when the spirit gets loose, the actual scare could be lost on you. That’s a shame, because Séance’s premise is such a novel idea. I came out of there with a grin on my face, because yes, it is fun getting scared witless by ASMR in a pitch-black room. But that novel factor is a bit of a detriment, too—one gets the feeling that exposure to the same gimmick two or three times might make it wear a bit thin.
Ultimately, I think the effectiveness of the show is up to you, the audience member. If you’re a fan of horror, can justify the ticket price, and suspend your disbelief for twenty minutes, then this is absolutely an experience not to be missed. But the show isn’t perfect, and if you can’t handle that, then I can safely say that you can pass on Séance—maybe listen to a spooky podcast instead.
Séance runs from the 17th of January to the 16th of February as part of the Fringe World Festival.