Do you know what’s worse than being bitten by a vampire? Hearing the sound of giggling while you’re waiting for vampires to attack.
More than the occasional blaring of sirens, it was this that sent shivers down my spine at They Only Come At Night: Pandemic.
At UK group Slung Low’s site-specific installation performance (another one!), you’re herded inside Old School, which is, for some strange reason, the last bastion of humanity. Vampires have conquered the world and we’re their next meal. Gulp.
But going by the occasional high-pitched sounds emanating from our protective circle of salt, “suspension of disbelief” apparently does not come easily to certain people, particularly among the younger demographic. If they wanted a bit more realism, I would have willingly pounced on the nearest teenage neck. Just saying.
As it were, I was haunted throughout by occasional glimpses of people with looks ranging from amused to bored—the kind of attitude that immediately closes the doors on an experience that is already premised on the farfetched notion of a vampire invasion.
Which is a pity because Pandemic is, if not completely engaging, a rather interesting manner of staging. You walk through the building witnessing the remnants of a violent, bloody encounter and find yourself herded at the basement along with other “survivors” as these creatures of the night patrol the periphery, waiting for a gap in the defenses. It draws presentation strategies from things like The Blair Witch Project (film), Alone In The Dark (computer game), The War Of The Worlds (radio), etc.
The show has got a backstory that audiences aren’t privy to—that it’s the third and last instalment in a series that had begun at London’s Barbican car park, features characters like a legendary vampire hunter called Quinn and a graphic artist named Milo, and that the supposed pandemic is the peak of a vampire rampage going on for some time. It may have helped to have a bit more knowledge of this, a kind of build up, considering Pandemic audiences supposedly find themselves at this series’ climax right here in Singapore (it does try to explain why).
Or maybe not. I didn’t have any problems getting into the mood of things. Quickly huddle in the centre? I don’t want to be killed so damn right I will. Don’t drink water outside the safety zone? Got it, but where’s our silver bullets?
I do understand why it might be difficult for some people to fully immerse themselves in the experience. Pandemic does a delicate balancing act between being an amusement park haunted attraction and a dramatisation of some pretty serious moral issues. Through our headphones, we listen as the characters (a company CEO named Maggie Tan and her tech wiz sidekick Morton, the in-her-own-world vampire killer Grace, a new age guru named Rickwood and the mysterious Quinn) get involve in a heated wordy debate on the survival of mankind and what it means. Not to mention, if you think about it even more, the piece’s underlying subtext about the whole “us and them” issue that’s so hot nowadays (no Ferraris mentioned, but Bedok Reservoir does get a quick one).
To offer thrills or opportunities to ponder—sometimes the show trips over itself as it shifts from one to the other, and those expecting it to be either one will perhaps be disappointed.
Still, the sucker that I am (sorry la, vampire puns are so easy) for these kinds of is-this-theatre type of shows, it was a fun (albeit sweaty) affair for this RAT. Just make sure you leave your skepticism at the door for the vampires to feast on.
(They Only Come At Night: Pandemic runs until May 27. Details here.)
PS, It’s also a good chance to say goodbye to Old School The Awesome Art District before everything shuts down and the landowners transform it into something grossly commercial (God, I miss Osage Gallery.) If you’re there early, make sure to drop by the final exhibition at 2902 Gallery. They’ve got a very good group show called A Crisis Of Confidence by Wong Jing Wei, Geraldine Kang and Tan Peiling until May 26.