Hearing is Believing

Great review from CBC Manitoba’s Joff Schmidt about Tomorrow’s Child

You should experience Ghost River Theatre’s Tomorrow’s Child. You should not, however, see it.

That’s because this production from the Calgary theatre company — which they first performed in 2014, and which is being introduced to Winnipeg audiences by Theatre Projects Manitoba — is meant to be heard, and not seen, by an audience deprived of sight by blindfolds.

The result is trippy, immersive and engrossing.

Adaptors Eric Rose, Matthew Waddell and David van Belle use Ray Bradbury’s 1947 short story Tomorrow’s Child as their source material.

Set in the then-distant year of 1988, it tells the story of Polly (Anna Cummer) and Peter (Tyrell Crews), who decide their unborn baby will be delivered by a high-tech birthing machine. But a malfunction results in the child being born in a different dimension — and appearing to his parents, and the rest of the three-dimensional-seeing world, as a tentacled, blue pyramid.

Can Polly and Peter learn to love their extra-dimensional child? That’s the question the sometimes surprisingly touching script asks.

It’s weird sci-fi, and there’s an element of what the creators call “retro-futurism” here, but for the most part they play the story pretty straight.

It’s how that story plays out, though, that’s remarkable. Audiences are asked to put on blindfolds before being led (gently, by a group of lab-coated “performer mechs”) from the West End Cultural Centre lobby into the theatre space.

The story unfolds for us completely in the world of sound, and while performances here are very good (or sound very good, anyway), the real star of the show is the sound design by co-directors Rose and Waddell.

An aircraft passes behind us, around us, and finally lands in front of us with a sound so booming and realistic, you’d swear you can feel the gust of wind it kicks up.

Voices move around the room, past us, seemingly coming from all points thanks to an ingenious speaker set-up and some superb sound recording.

Noises and voices often layer, phase or flange with musical effect, creating a rich sonic soundscape. Sometimes the sounds we hear are joyful, like a child’s laughter. Sometimes they’re intense and unsettling rumbles, or unplaceable and alien futuristic sounds.

It can be an intense, and sometimes discombobulating, experience. Everyone will have a different picture of the show in their mind’s eye, but the tapestry of sound created ensures it will be a vivid picture.

The overall effect is transporting — the initial discomfort of being deprived of a sense most of us rely on so heavily starts to give way to immersion in the show’s sonic world.

And coming in at just around an hour, it lets us return to the visual world long before its powerful effect starts to wear thin.

It’s a wild trip — and one that has to be heard to be believed.

Catch Tomorrow’s Child at the West End Cultural Centre until Nov. 5.