Immersive theatre operates on a sliding scale of ‘immersion’.
At the bottom: ‘we’re going to make you walk around for this’.
In the middle: ‘you can feel up the sets’.
Towards the top: ‘there are actors who might interact with you’.
‘Sounds and Sorcery: Celebrating Disney’s Fantasia’ hits every rung on the immersive theatre ladder (except the Punchdrunk-grade ‘you’ll get locked alone in a room with an actor and engage in shenanigans’).
Inspired by Disney’s 1940 animated masterpiece ‘Fantasia’, ‘Sounds and Sorcery…’ is more a celebration of the feature-length cartoon than a work of independent artistry. That means anyone unfamiliar with ‘Fantasia’ might find it frustrating, rather than charming and nostalgic.
Audience members, funnelled into the atmospheric and rather damp-smelling dark in timed groups, begin by watching what looks like a ’90s screensaver set to JS Bach’s ‘Toccata and Fugue’. The much-feted binaural sound stutters and adds very little to the experience. Further on, the headphones continue to crackle and cough but they do cleverly change track depending on the area being explored.
The rooms devoted to Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker Suite’ are cute, pretty (look out for the hidden staircase) and laden with visual references to the cartoon. Those inspired by the terrifying dinosaurs in Disney’s version of Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ are less impressive, though they display some imaginative lighting and an amusing obstacle course-style set.
There are timed performances, with actors, for the rooms based on Paul Dukas’s ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ – here a rather sad, wet, side-show with none of Disney’s anarchic magic – and Amilcare Ponchielli’s ‘Dance of the Hours’ (you know, the one with the hippos and ostriches) – which is in the bar and has some daft, delightful clownish burlesque. The low-key ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ finale doesn’t quite round off the evening with the bombast you’d hope.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that the buzziest atmosphere is in the ‘Dance of the Hours’ bar, and the post-show bar. The cocktails, which include colour-changing gins and bourbons smoked before your very eyes, have been designed with fun-loving grown-ups with friends or on dates in mind, and so has the space. Children at ‘Sounds and Sorcery’ might be baffled, bored or scared – but adult-sized kids will have a lark.