I reckon I’ve been on about 80 flights in my lifetime. That’s a lot, and each time I can’t help but think:
What if this is the one? What if it’s this time? What if this plane is on news bulletin?
At the same time I know that, of course, it won’t be. The odds are too low. I’m always unsure if I’m actually scared of crashing, or just pretending to myself that I’m scared.
It’s not dissimilar to the ‘what if?’ of theatre’s core proposition – that what you’re experiencing is both real and fake at the same time. David Rosenberg and Glen Neath, known for their unsettling headphone shows which take place in pitch darkness, exploit this liminality – ruthlessly.
This is the second show they’ve made for shipping containers. Functional and impenetrable from the outside, on the inside is a perfect replica of a plane fuselage bisected down its length by a lush blue curtain. Beautifully life-like and utterly contrived. And what happens inside the container is vacuum sealed from the rest of the world, like on a plane. There’s no getting off mid-journey.
It goes dark. A polaroid imprint of your surroundings clings onto the retinas for long seconds after the lights go out. With your eyes open, the blackness doesn’t feel flat, but stretches the depth of the container and then some. When takeoff starts and the seats start rumbling, the sensation of movement is real, like the split second before your body readjusts after stepping onto a frozen escalator – a psychological glitch, suspended and elasticated. The low, forehead blood-hum of the plane and the rattle of loose-jointed sheets of metal.
Nothing’s quite right. The familiar rituals and scripts of plane journeys are all present, but strange. A chorus of crying babies erupts from nowhere, and they all obey the tannoy voice politely asking them to stop. The captain can’t quite get to grips with the intercom. There’s a cat onboard.
This flight simulator isn’t in quite the same mode as the all-out genre-horror of Darkfield’s previous shipping container piece, Séance. Instead, Flight is steeped in existential uncertainty – instead of jump scares, the low rumble of contained anxiety. The captain makes a passenger call for a Mr Shrödinger – this aeroplane is an engineered Shrödinger’s box, its passengers’ lives thrown into flux at high altitude, and I can’t help but think of the passengers on MH370, its passengers both dead and alive to those who watched the news bulletins. In a jaw-dropping coup, we glimpse the other half of the plane – our impossible doubles on the other side of the curtain. Are they the dead ones, or are we? Neath and Rosenberg touch on many worlds theory, which states that for every situation with more than one possible outcome, all of them occur. In Flight, even when the plane crashes, you walk out alive.
I’m a thrill-junkie at the movies, but it’s a feeling I rarely get in theatre shows – I’m too aware of my own collusion in the pretence of it all. What Rosenberg and Neath do with Flight is to harness the very uncertainty of pretending, and in doing so create an experience that’s properly exhilarating. It’s a perfectly programmed high-art theme park ride, a reminder of one’s closeness at all times to death that spits you out into the sunlight feeling palpably, certainly, alive.