Review by Yasmin Elahi
Brisbane Circus Centre has been transformed into a underwater mirage for Erth’s Shark Dive, as part of Brisbane Festival 2023. Shrouded in black curtains, the experience remains a mystery until the guides collect the unwitting participants and shepherd them into the ‘compression chamber’. After a theatrical safety briefing and once the audience has donned headphones, they are let out of the chamber and taken to the shark cage. Once safely inside, the creatures lurking in the deep appear beyond the bars.
Director Scott Wright cleverly engineered this performance so audience members are at first scared of the shark but once let out of the cage and back to relative safety, the perspective shifts and they are able to watch the experience from the shark’s perspective. The music and narration changes as well, leaving audience members with perhaps a changed opinion on the creature that was terrifying them mere minutes earlier.
The puppet design by Steve Howarth was realistic, especially the shark. The ripples of its skin, its mechanical mouth and tail all contributed a life-like quality to the fabricated animal. The way it moved throughout the space was unique and contributed to the immersive feel of the experience. The puppeteers remained unobtrusive and controlled the puppets with dexterity.
The stated running time for the experience varies from 40 minutes to 55 minutes. In actuality, audience members are in the shark tank for no more than 12 minutes. The safety briefing and debriefing take up perhaps another 5-10 minutes each. Overall, the experience is just shy of 30 minutes, but time spent with the puppets is more like 15-20. Honestly, it is rather disappointing and one must question whether it is worth navigating the traffic, parking and setting aside an afternoon to make a special trip to Hamilton for essentially 12 minutes of shark dive time…
Though the experience was clever and felt immersive, it certainly felt too short. There were 3-4 puppets in total – the emphasis being the shark which was fairly magnificent. There were also a host of technical issues, with audience members’ headphones ceasing to work mid-experience, plunging them into silence. It would also be prudent for Erth to alter the exit of the experience, which involved navigating a small corridor with piping, curtains and other trip hazards on the floor.
Overall, Erth’s Shark Dive was an immersive and up-close experience with a realistic shark puppet. The time spent in the cage was suspenseful and audience members were treated to a up close encounter with the puppets. However, the experience felt very short and slightly disappointing. If this encounter was part of a larger, immersive underwater installation it would be well-served. On its own, it feels like a teaser of what should be a much longer theatrical experience.