I should start this review by saying that The Cube by Simon Wilkinson (aka Circa69) is not really the kind of show you can review (so, like, feel free to stop reading). To be more exact, it’s the kind of show that would be really mean to review in detail even with *spoiler alert* emblazoned at ever juncture, because a lot of its impact as a piece of theatre relies on not knowing beforehand what will take place.
So let’s just say that the one-by-one audience members who enter The Cube (which in the case of its residency at the Colston Hall, Bristol is actually more of A Dome) are given virtual reality goggles and a pair of headphones, and then they, umm, see things via this magnificent technology. And also feel things. Mini spoiler: it’s often the feeling things that causes you to stop feeling so clever about being able to second-guess the experience and actually get a tiny bit freaked out. That, and the man (real and VR) that keeps walking behind you so you think, “I wonder if now he will kill me.” Which is actually a pretty stupid thought as if Wilkinson wanted to kill multiple people and get away with it, doing so in the basement of the Colston Hall after scheduling a show with Submerge Festival would be a bad way of going about it.
So anyway, the upshot is that you don’t get killed – and it’s nice that I keep reiterating this as now when you go see this very cool show, you can do so safe in the knowledge that YOU WILL NOT GET KILLED and, therefore, relax a little. But not too much, as on the whole The Cube is an unsettling experience, because it is meant to be so.
There are a few things I can reveal about it as they are the same things the publicity for the piece makes clear. It’s based on a story involving the mass disappearance of eight students and their teacher in Idaho in 1959. The nine of them went out on a trip and never returned. According to the introductory speech given at the start of the show, no bodies or other traces of the group were ever found, except a letter. What you experience in The Cube builds on one of these letters.
Aside from the wonders of VR technology and tricksy questions like, “How do you build a reality that doesn’t collapse in three days?” the most confounding feature of The Cube’s story is how the people living in the small town that the missing came from collectively forgot they existed. Whilst the missing had been lured into a black box cube to deliberately mess with reality, the townsfolk effectively went one better. They demonstrated that it was they who really knew how to flick a switch between what was real and not. A collective amnesia conspired to make it appear as though the event never took place and the people never existed.
There’s a lot of talk right now about how we live in the ‘post-truth’ world. The assertion is accompanied by the insinuation that this is a condition specific to this very moment in the modern era. The more terrifying fact to contend with is that none of this is actually very new at all. The story presented in The Cube serves as a reminder that there’s never really been a hey day of truth, where you could reliably look in newspapers or historical records and know everything was 100% gold-edged fact. Indeed, every part of this story – including the collective amnesia – could be invented. Deliberate attempts to reconfigure reality are a recurrent theme of both conspiracy theories and a manifold collection of historical events stretching throughout the 20th century and beyond.
If enough people get together in a room (be that the Oval Office or a remote village hall) and collectively decide, consciously or unconsciously, to forget or remember something, then that shapes what becomes known as reality. The internet is able to do this on a bigger scale or at a faster pace, but the principle is fundamentally the same. Long before VR headsets, the people of Salem, Massachusetts, constructed a reality in which residents were witches and needed to be killed. As Arthur Miller knew, this type of event played out again in subtly different ways at other times in history. And so on. The point is that, given fancy tools to play with or not, humans are alarmingly and bizarrely good at screwing with reality. It feels like the real conspiracy is that we keep forgetting that.
The Cube was on as part of Submerge Festival. Click here for more details.