‘No one’s Safe’ is risky immersive opera

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You’re invited to the Marshall Family reunion. There will be libretto and opera. And a murder.

No One’s Safe is a murder mystery opera performance that is presented in partnership between Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Against the Grain Theatre and the Candian Opera Company. It is an innovative opera experience, taking place at the Walter Phillips Gallery and Glyde Hall at the Centre. As an audience member, you are invited to the Marshall Family reunion and you are meant to follow one character as they make their way throughout the building. Their path may cross with other characters or other audience members. There are 9 characters to choose from. This is getting intimate with opera, mingling with a murder mystery narrative and coming up against the power of it all.

I was assigned to follow Rachel Marshall (Adanya Dunn), daughter of Calvin Marshall, in the first round of No one’s Safe. Everyone gathers to read a letter sent to the family, but then the action moves to the next room where Calvin Marshall (George Ross) lies freshly murdered. Someone talks about calling the police, and oddly everyone moves into different rooms. I followed Rachel through a couple different rooms, where she had a duet with her husband Alex (Tonatiuh Abrego) and then sent him away. She was anxious and drank a lot. She would guide audience members through stairways, smeared with hand prints of blood. She seemed unhinged until she met her cousin Thomas (Peter Rolfe Dauz) then she gained strength to taunt him. This all lead to a balcony where all the characters received a text message of ‘I know what you did.’ Rachel then meets up with Alex again to reveal something about her relationship with her father.

Everyone is brought to the location in which the opera started and there is a twenty-minute intermission. The performance is then repeated and you, as an audience member have the option of following any of the characters. You can also switch at any time. I wanted to access the narrative that Rachel wasn’t involved in, so I chose to follow family friend Sarah Thorpe (Vanessa Oude-Reimerink). She sets off to calm the drug addicted Thomas, tries to find Rebecca Marshall (Ellen McAteer) but winds up trying to seduce Rebecca’s girlfriend Jessie (Stephanie Hradsky) instead. She does run into Rebecca and then winds up on the balcony when the whole group gets the text message.

The group then winds up in the same room as where Calvin is murdered and the murderer is revealed in a crescendo of music.

No One’s Safe has many strong elements in this intricate production that make it compelling and fascinating, but there are also elements that are quite weak. Every single performer has a wonderful voice and getting so intimate with every cast member’s voice is a powerful experience. Opera has such a tremendous range of emotion.
This production also features musicians in most rooms and hallways and that creates a layer of complexity that adds a richness to the performance. The cast are costumed distinctly enough to distinguish them from audience members, but also from each other. There is also such charm about hearing opera echo in every section of the building, as you make your way around. You get to create your own experience and this enhances the production.

The weakness of the No One’s Safe lies in the emotional connectivity of the narrative that the characters are trying to tell. There is no depth in the story telling, and some characters spend their performance illustrating one character trait. Thomas is nervous and panics, Rachel is crazy, Rebecca is dramatic. The emotional pull isn’t there and this means that the story feels immensely contrived. The telling is awkward, even the logistics of having characters separate after a murder. Coupled with the singing, the storytelling is one dimensional and flat, which is a shame. No One’s Safe just needs to pull through the emotional ties and give the story much more depth, while fleshing out each characters’ motivation.

Against the Grain Theatre and Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity’s production of No One’s Safe features innovative, immersive operatic theatre with greatly talented vocalists. I’ll take this style of presentation of opera over the traditional way any day.

More information is available about Against the Grain Theatre online.

Photo: Adanya Dunn & David Diston in No One’s Safe
Credit: Rita Taylor, Banff Centre

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