Sitting in the large entrance hall of Mexborough Business Centre, Lee Conway, of Faceless Ventures UK, spoke apprehensively of his recent foray into script-writing for Diary of a Deceased. A basic writing process of some description is necessary for any production, even a simple scare maze. But uninterrupted dialogue to advance an actual narrative is a step further. Now, on the fringe of immersive theatre with an audience who are hungry for challenging content, Lee and the rest of the team are going to have to get comfortable with script writing, and fast. They could be in this for the long haul.
The premise for Diary worked perfectly within the format of the show. A cadaver – John Doe – had been brought into a morgue. No real name, no identification. All he had with him was a diary, with all but 4 pages torn out. These 4 diary entries detailed specific periods in his life. Detailed the horrors he’d been living with. Through these pages, were were taken on a journey into darkness; seeing the world through his eyes, experiencing his torment and suffering. Each setpiece of the show represented a different diary entry; a different phase, beginning with childhood and moving through to the final stages of his tragically short life. The diary element was the backbone of the show; it told a clear story which we moved through at a good pace, exploring the nightmare of John’s words brought to life.
There were two setpieces in particular that stood out for me. Firstly, the childhood scene, in which a young John invited us into his makeshift den. His place of refuge from the visions that haunted him. Or so he thought. Toys littered the floor, drawings adorned the walls. It was deeply unnerving to inhabit an innocent child’s space and then witness it being invaded by such dark forces. The use of sound in this particular scene was incredibly effective. The second standout scene was later in John’s life; he’d tried to flee his demons by moving overseas, where he then fell in love, only to discover that he had escaped nothing; the darkness had followed him. We witnessed his lover’s grief when she realised that even she couldn’t save him, and despite her love for him, she had to let him go. This scene was particularly eerie, thanks to the lighting, the actors’ movement, and a warped piece of music, which (for several reasons) added a level of menace.
The final scenes of the show featured more traditional scare tactics as we got up close and personal with the demons which haunted John. These scares were quite jarring, especially when paired with the emotional theatricality of his lover’s goodbye. I would have liked to see more subtlety here; the scary moments were very effective, but they clashed and deflected from the poignancy of the subject matter.
As we progressed towards the last page of the diary, it became evident that John simply couldn’t bear the pain of his own existence, and chose to take his own life. For me, a compelling aspect of the show was the ambiguity around the demons that caused this. Was he being haunted by something other-worldly? Was he suffering from undiagnosed psychosis? Or could it be a combination of the two – was he driven mad by the darkness that engulfed him? This enhanced what was already a deeply thought-provoking presentation.
Overall, Diary of a Deceased was a triumph; a beautiful production created with care and a great deal of imagination. The actors’ command of each scene was masterful, navigating the scares, the sadness, and moments of silence which brought gravity and depth. I hope the show will resurface in one form or another, so that a new audience may experience its artistry.