Thursday 16 August 2018


Sounds and Sorcery Celebrating Disney's Fantasia at The Vaults

I've been a huge Disney geek for as long as I can remember. I may not mention Disney quite as much on my blog as I do in real life (though I have a few themed posts planned, so stay tuned!) but that doesn't mean that my love for the 90-year-old mouse and his friends has disappeared in the slightest. So when I heard about a new immersive theatre experience at the Vaults underneath Waterloo Station inspired by the Disney classic animated film Fantasia, I was sold.

Now, don't get put off by the word 'immersive', which can sound a bit daunting to people who prefer to observe rather than participate. I was the same until I saw the excellent Alice's Adventures Underground (twice), also at the Vaults, which has converted me into a fan of the genre. In Sounds and Sorcery, like Alice, you're not singled out in front of fellow audience members, instead the show becomes immerse through innovative staging – combining elements more reminiscent of a modern art installations with experimental theatre – and a sensory experience wildly different from anything you'll find on a West End stage.

When you walk in, you're kitted out with a personal headset and a device that will play the right soundtrack for each room you wander into, regardless of the order you do them in. Allowing each audience member their own audio device means that the sounds and voices that come through feel incredibly intimate as any noise from fellow audience members is drowned out. This was first and foremost evident in the very first room we entered, where we laid down on couches and looked at the ceiling, removing all other people in the room from our view, as a visual and audio show of musical instruments soothed us with our own private concert. It was a very unique way to start the evening and one that really set the tone for the night.

The next two rooms we entered, coincidentally were both of the live performances as the entry for these is timed and they happened to neatly follow one another during our time slot. The first, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, is arguable the most anticipated sequence for attendees as it's the most famous part of Fantasia where Mickey Mouse (aka the Sorcerer's Apprentice) tries a spell from his master's magic book to help him clean the floors. But what starts off as a gentle song and dance of the brooms and buckets turns into chaos by the end of the piece. As Sounds and Sorcery is inspired by Disney's Fantasia and not a direct adaptation, there is no Mickey Mouse in sight here.

Nonetheless the scene I'd very similar to that in the animated classic with live actors embodying the brooms that clean to the best of Paul Dukas' classic sounds. The room it takes place is in dark and muggy, adding to the frantic and almost dangerous feeling atmosphere of the piece. The sequence set to Amilcare Ponchielli's The Dance of the Hours, in comparison, was a light-hearted almost slapstick dance sequence with the performers embodying their animal counterparts (an elephant, hippo, crocodile and flamingo, respectively) with a playful joie-de-vivre in their step.

The next two parts of the show weren't timed performances and so we were able to explore them at our own pace. There was a dark and ominous space where volcanoes were errupting and the game 'the floor is lava' was taken quite literally. A fascinating experience but too dark to find your step and so I was glad for the flashlight on my phone for this one. With uneven flooring and climbing opportunities it's surprising there weren't more safety lights around. They would've undoubtedly distracted from the dangerous atmosphere created through the caves and volcanoes but safety first, especially with young children running around.

The Nutcracker Suite was hands down my favourite experience at Sounds and Sorcery. Taking the famous tunes from the ballet, such as The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and The Arabian Dance, the audience goes on a whirlwind journey of the four seasons through video installations and giant flowers displays lighting up to the sounds of the iconic ballet. It's a mesmerising fairy tale like experience, and this is where Sounds and Sorcery really excels as an immersive piece of theatre.

The final part of the experience is more of a mixed bag, with an abstract short film that might be a tad too peculiar and creepy for younger audiences making way for Franz Schubert's Ave Maria, and a magical forest filled with lanterns reminiscent of the beautiful Nutcracker Suite. Sounds and Sorcery certainly goes out on a high with these beautiful lit up trees, but it makes the stark contrast with the more experimental film just prior even more evident.

Fantasia isn't a typical Disney film. There isn't a single story or a cast of famous characters (except for Mickey Mouse's turn as the Sorcerer's Apprentice), instead the emphasis is on the classical music and ballets, creating a great introduction for children to these beautifully orchestrated pieces to a backdrop ofcute and colourful animated shorts.

And Sounds and Sorcery, which celebrates this movie masterpiece, is very similar in that sense. Each room is vastly different to the others, the performances and installations clearly inspired by but no exact adaptations of Fantasia, and the true emphasis being on the beautiful music. The surroundings create a tangible connection to the pieces, making you vividly see and feel the instruments in addition to soaking them up through your ears.

While not every room quite succeeds in wowing its audiences with its staging and design, the overall experience is still one of awe as the beautiful music takes you on a magical and unexpected journey so cleverly designed throughout the Vaults underneath Waterloo Station for this immersive extravaganza.

Sounds and Sorcery Celebrating Disney's Fantasia is playing at the Vaults until 30 September 2018. Book your tickets here.

🎵 Listening to: Taylor Swift – Getaway Car

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