Creator of the sell-out Blood on the Snow and A Curious Zoo, Caroline Sabin, writes about her latest project, a haunted house experience at Insole Court this Halloween.
Igor is in love with Mad Scientist Maud. Maud is depressed. The Groundskeeper appears to be having an affair with her dog who is probably a werewolf, and she is probably a vampire. An Obsessive Aunt keeps trying to read everyone’s fortune and all she predicts is Death. The ghost of Juliet Capulet wanders the halls, Frankenstein’s Monster works as the Butler and the psychiatrist brought in to deal with Maud’s nihilistic depression has lost all sense of reality. Enter at your peril.
I can’t quite believe that I’ve been given the opportunity of making this show in this venue. We are being hosted by Insole Court, an incredible space that ranges from opulent to dilapidated and back again with interconnecting corridors and doors that disorientate in the most delightful way. Add to this my multi-talented cast – Gerald Tyler, Lara Ward, Rowan Talbot, Hugh Stainer, Kim Noble, Jon Gower, Madelyn Smedley and myself – and there is a good chance that this show will turn out to be thoroughly entertaining.
The subject matter of Mysterious Maud is incredibly close to my heart. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this passionate about a piece of work before. I’ve always been fascinated with the nuts and bots of perception – something it is easiest to take for granted – and my earliest memories revolve around wrestling with the paradoxes hidden in the reality we generally simply accept on a daily basis.
Initially I’d imagined presenting these ideas as a gallery exhibition, with interactive stations that would allow viewers to have direct experiences that highlight the fact that all is not as it seems when it comes to our view of the world. But this format always seemed a bit dry, and so unsurprisingly it was never developed. Then the notion of framing these experiences in a haunted house setting landed. Exploring these ideas can be quite unnerving, so it seemed an excellent match.
So what do I mean when I talk about the problems and misconceptions around perception? I’d like to invite you to look around the room right now. You can see things I imagine. What it feels like is that there is a viewer inside you looking out through the windows of the eyes and simply noting a fixed external reality. But this is not what’s happening. The visual image you ‘see’ is being created by your own mind, and there are some simple exercises you can do to demonstrate this to yourself – you absolutely don’t have to take my word for it! For example there is a blind spot in the centre of everyone’s vision caused by the lack of light receptors where the optic nerve passes through the retina. This visual gap is quite large, about the size of your open hand when you hold your arm straight out in front of you, and the reason that you don’t notice it is that your mind is filling in the space seamlessly, swiftly and constantly. Here’s a link to experience this for yourself.
Mysterious Maud is a scientist. She’s a gothic horror mad scientist so tends towards explosions and the creation of monsters, but she still puts her faith in the gathering of facts and data as the foundation of her work. When she starts to explore the act of perception and finds anomalies in every sense she starts to fall into Descartes’ abyss and realises that the only thing she can be sure of is that ‘something is experiencing something’. This idea has been explored a multitude of times before with many variations. A common thought experiment would be ‘how do you know you aren’t just a brain floating in a vat?’ The answer is that you don’t know. You literally cannot know. Scary huh? The only argument against this hypothesis is that it seems ridiculous.
Now, I want to stress that this show is going to be a hoot. The venue is incredible, huge, rambling and (if you believe in that sort of thing which sadly I don’t) very, very haunted. I’ve filled it with incredible performers who dance, sing, make you laugh and break your heart, and the technical magician that is Gerald Tyler has inhabited the place with bumps, jumps and chills. The audience will have the chance to test every sense for themselves as they journey from tower to butler’s pantry, from drawing room to attic, all woven together with newly commissioned music from the wonderful Rowan Talbot. There are even biscuits. I hope you’ll join us for the fun.
For ticket information, visit Chapter’s website here.