That's a fascinating prospect: a self-defeating show; theatre so ephemeral it might as well not have happened. In that, Fiction's a bit like Duckie's Lullaby, a show that tried to send its audience to sleep, and so worked best when no-one was watching. If you remember Fiction, you weren't really there…
David Rosenberg and Glen Neath's headphone piece, their second in total darkness after the unnerving Ring, does more than that though. It's a woozy examination of the way we dream: the way your days can recur in your sleep and external stimuli – car alarms or strong scents – can wriggle into your head. It also works as a piece about stories, one that suggests cinema and theatre are kind of like dreaming in public.
We're sat in comfy chairs, facing a big screen. On it, instructions appear – phones off, last chance to leave for the loo – but they slide into the show itself: introducing a guest speaker, singling out seat number 4031. Images of a hotel room appear: retro and tatty. There's a single shot of a wintry wood. Oh, the screen says, you'll need a pen. Too late. Blackout.
'The piece lulls you, then jerks you back to alertness'
What follows is entirely aural and, even half an hour in, exists only as a series of hazy half-memories. A voice, a soft female French purr, whispers in your ear. That's Julie (she insists on the French pronunciation) and, somehow, you feel her presence at your shoulder. You're in a hotel and, though it's hardly described, you can only envisage the one that appeared onscreen, tatty and retro. Someone – was it you? – is down to give a conference presentation. Something's happening in room 4031. Someone – you again? – needs a pee.
Rhythmically, the piece lulls you, then jerks you back to alertness. You settle into Julie's voice, then – screech – you're in a car, with the chirpy whistled pre-set music coming out of the stereo. Or you're outdoors, likely in that leafless forest, as kids play and birds chirrup.
It's a gently disconcerting experience: groggy, dark and elusive. You try to stay alert, only for your mind to drift. You try to fix things in memory, only to feel them slipping away. It's never quite clear what's coming from your headphones and what from the room beyond, even the street outside. Do you actually smell the deodorant being described – or just imagine that you do? Are we all dreaming the same dream?
Impeccably put together, with Ben and Max Ringham's binaural sound design precise enough to trick your other senses and eerie video work from Susanne Dietz, Fiction makes for a unique theatrical encounter about the power of suggestion and the workings of your subconscious. At least, that's if I remember rightly…
Fiction runs at Battersea Arts Centre until 21 March