Note: This review is from the 2016 Fringe

In Awakening, Sweet and Sour Sensory Composition, by Nitroglicerina Theatre, everyone wears a blank white mask the whole time. These are frequently overlaid with heavier, elaborately decorated masks that make it difficult to breathe. Oh, and they have no eye holes. Audience members are moved around by two white-clad, white-masked performers, placed in positions on the stage, made to hold hands or dance with others, and sometimes stroked on the arm, all while unable to see. When at last you are released from your second mask again, it is only for a brief respite, during which time you can watch others being manipulated in odd ways. The whole experience is an incomprehensible fifty minutes of fear as you wonder what uncomfortable thing will happen to you next.

The description for Awakening… in the Fringe guide promises a “surreal, modern morality play“. There is no discernible relationship to morality plays, even surreal modern ones. Potentially the eyeless masks are supposed to represent virtues and vices, but as you can’t see your own mask and are rarely able to see those of others, they have little chance of creating meaning. There is no narrative whatsoever, so it cannot even be said to be a “play”.

It is meant to be an immersive piece “directed by us but created by you”. However, there is little space for audience input, as attempts to rebel against being moved are corrected into what the performers want, and people are too afraid to move when they can’t see. The only way to opt out of what is happening is to leave, which probably seems too extreme a choice to people who have paid ten pounds to be there.

As for whether the “play” targets “each of the five senses for a total awakening”, the answer is a definite no. Taste was neglected entirely, and smell was catered to only by the smell of PVC from the mask. Sight was only possible some of the time, and touch meant uncomfortable contact with strangers. There was a soundtrack, which includes classical music, heartbeat and dripping water effects, and the disturbing sound of someone breathing through plastic, though you will be too busy listening for people approaching to pay it much attention.

If Awakening… “reflects contemporary society in all its terrifying beauty”, it is by creating a herd of people standing around purposelessly, too frightened to move… which is indeed terrifying, but only a dictator could find it beautiful.