An unorthodox performance, Charlotte Day and Miranda McCauley's Dickinson's Room — part of Bad Neighbour Theatre's Emily Triptych — is a confidently performed yet occasionally somewhat bewildering observation of the private life of the iconoclastic 19th C. poetess' life. Held across three stiflingly hot rooms upstairs at the Buckingham Arms Hotel, the show asks its audience to both figuratively and literally follow the performer as she flits animatedly through the rooms of her imagination.
A notorious recluse, Dickinson was most recognisable for the eschewing of societal conformities of her era, most notably her refusal to join her family's church. Not dissimilar to Kafka, she published very little work during her lifetime, but posthumously became recognised as one of the most striking poetic voices of the 1800's. McCauley plays her with a manic energy that is compelling, and the characterisation of the writer is comprised from Dickinson's correspondence, poems and some invention on the part of the production. There is some dispute as to whether Dickinson had a mental affliction that compelled her lifelong solitude; we know so little about her private life that one can't diagnose anything conclusively. Day and McCauley wisely focus on the aspect of the writer's behaviour that's relevant: her imagination. Highly interactive, the performance sees their Dickinson inviting audience members into her rooms for whimsical yet macabre games (I had to draw death as a chair), then suddenly with darkened face bellowing for them to get out again. The staging is fun and engaging, but it's not always entirely clear when we were meant to follow, the entire audience couldn't always fit in around the corners of whichsoever room we were haphazardly crowded into, and the significance of the games at times seems tenuous.
Dickinson's Room is nonetheless a great production with an obvious affection for the imaginative poet's work and life. The interactivity invites us into Dickinson's inner world and personality, giving us a glimpse of a remarkable woman that very few knew in her time. With some decent ventilation (seriously, my favourite part of the play was when Emily opened a door), a more organic sound setup, and some liaising with the hotel venue so people aren't awkwardly eating their meals during the show, the production will be a remarkable account of the enigmatic poetess.
At the very least, one can't disparage the commitment of performers in suffocating layers of 19th C. dresses in that heat.