Dancing, immersive horror with production design to DIE for
By Owen James
As we wait in the gardens of the Labassa Mansion, an ornate 19th century estate that screams gothic horror, spirits and demons conspire and glare from the balcony above, a glimpse of what is to unfold as we enter the house. Before this immersive experience has begun, we are already intrigued, on edge, and prepared to be spooked…
Producers Bass Fam Creative could not have selected a more perfect venue for Mansion. As we are lead from room to room by The Caretaker, the attention to detail inherent in the building itself is matched by breathtaking design in every costume (Bass Fam Creative) and accompanying masks, prosthetics, detailed makeup (Todd Winterton) and even creepy contact lenses. Lighting by Linda Hum and Gordon Boyd is simple but very effective, creating dark, cavernous spaces and sublimely highlighted moments of performance. Mansion’s design is cohesive and colourful – horror director Dario Argento would be proud.
The cast of eleven dancers are all given chances to showcase their vast skillsets, which range from delicate ballet to aerial circus acts. These are professional, trained performers at the top of their game who are incredibly adept at executing impressive routines in dangerously confined spaces (prepare for various limbs swinging mere measured inches from your face in the smaller rooms). Particularly memorable sections include a number with a water-filled bathtub, demons protruding from a lavish bed in a garish nightmare sequence, and a fiery duet atop one of the largest wooden tables I’ve ever seen. All this is connected with an overarching plot about the haunted Walker family, which itself is peppered with a healthy smattering of references to horror pop culture icons including The Exorcist, The Grudge, and A Nightmare On Elm Street. Horror fans will rejoice – or at least smile and nod.
Scream-induced (and inducing) jumpscares are aplenty, with characters popping out from behind curtains, beneath furniture, and lurking in every dark corner you cautiously peer into. The storytelling is sometimes convolutedly crafted but always clearly presented – a very important facet when utilising a largely visual medium. Bass G Fam (writer, director and producer) has ensured the storytelling is thankfully at the forefront of every moment of the production, and created a successfully unified tonal experience in Mansion.
One caveat is the sound design – too often distorted or compressed. Whether the supplied audio files lacked sufficient quality or the distortion was intentional, many popular contemporary songs lacked the vivacity and consistency a show driven by sound should demand.
Bass Fam Collective have noted this is the second instalment in their ‘Trilogy of Love’ which began with ‘Matador’ earlier in 2019. Fans of dance theatre with a twist should keep an eye out for what comes next.
Photography courtesy of Sarochinee Saw