Although an ancestor of film, I have never reviewed a play before. Who am I, with my film knowledge and obsession with cinema’s pantheon of artists and their works, to walk into a live show and apply my background in moving pictures to actors spouting soliloquies or tap dancers knocking out a tune? While plays have moved me in the past, I have not studied the medium, nor analysed it much outside the Shakespearean plays teens are tested on.

But Aura: A Musical in the Dark is closer to a live radio play than a stage direction, so I guess that’s alright.

Telling the story of an eight-year-old girl, Lu (Sandie Von Brockdorff), the entire show is conducted in the dark. Hospital-bound and battling an illness, the pitch-black play bounces back and forth between Lu’s crumbling reality and her imaginary world, Aura, which is a mix of Neverland’s infinite adventure and Narnia’s monstrous but kind characters. And all of this is heard over headphones, in a blacker-than-black room where not even the green glow of exit signs is allowed to penetrate the darkness. Meanwhile, the cast acts in a stuffy sound booth next door.

Before the show began, an usher handed me my headphones for the show along with a small red packet – smaller than a playing card but larger than a stamp. On it, an instruction said to open the packet once a specific line is said. At its core, this is how Aura promises to entertain its followers.

By eliminating sight from the equation, the rest of the senses need to play catch-up, so the director Vikesh Godhwani and his team dig into the toolbox to creatively build their world.

When a talking flower introduces itself, the auditorium is filled with its fresh scent. When a storm hits Aura, ushers splash the audience with water, simulating the raindrops and turning the fans on high as gales rip through the imaginary land. And when they do say the line, you are meant to open your red packet and add that to the sensory experience. However, I missed that line, so I never opened my red packet. When the scent filled the room which, as far as I am aware, was the only time a smell was used, my nostrils barely noticed the Febreze-like change. And when Aura was described as a warm and magical place, I couldn’t ignore the AC that held me shivering in my seat.

At the blinding core of Aura, Godhwani promises an experience that strips watchers of their sight and forces them to build their own world in their individual minds through the scant information given. In practice, the show is a live radio play with a couple of cool quirks thrown into the mix.

The rest of the senses need to play catch-up, so the director Vikesh Godhwani and his team dig into the toolbox to creatively build their world

As I sat in the dark listening to actors over headphones that began to pinch not too long into the hour-and-15-minute performance, I struggled to connect. Narratively, Aura walks down some familiar paths but, just as they are about to get interesting, it takes a turn for a more Disney-driven direction.

The style choice gives composer Luke Sydon a nostalgic freedom, but its childish nature can make the musical feel held back by its panto roots.

The cast, charismatic and chemically bubbling, can often get lost among each other as each member of the four-person team plays numerous characters.

While some roles stand out – namely Lu’s fathers played by Jake Sawyers and William Shackleton – I can’t recall most of their names as they flitted in and out of the audio. Was the imaginary monster that just spoke the giant who prefers to go by Big Man, or was it Banana King the gorilla (both names that I read from the programme)?

The issue persists for most of Aura’s imaginary characters, but it is the human roles that allow the cast some singularity. While in hospital, Lu meets Peppa (Rachel Fabri), a 90-something-year-old who befriends the young girl. During the show, Peppa’s wheelchair can be heard squeaking down the ward’s halls, but in my mind, there was more to her.

Peppa, elderly and elegant, sits in her wheelchair resting on a slim black cane that hasn’t touched the floor in years. Although she lives in the florescent hallways, I saw her in a Victorian black dress, her lips drawn permanently tight. That image was mine, and mine alone as every seat around me saw a different Peppa, one that resonated with them.

Every visual is personal and intimate. As the cast sings through their magical fairy tale, it feels as if it is being put on just for you. The Aura I saw was not the one Godhwani created, but one I appended to his artistic message. My attention may have wandered from the plot several times, but my mind never left the world the show and I had created together.

Each person will listen to the same performance, but everyone will see a different musical. And, although I missed out on my little red packet, it is only a testament to Godhwani’s and co-writer Marta Vella’s creativity that their world captured me to the point of immersion.

I doubt I will ever open my little red packet. I know what it hides, but I would rather keep the imagination alive.

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