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The Immersive Soundscape of A Kettle of Fish

26 September 2018

A Kettle of Fish features a unique and immersive soundscape delivered through headphones. We spoke to Sound Designer and Composer Max Pappenheim about how this fits in with the show, accompanied by some epic photography by Helen Murray.

Can you tell us a bit about the sound design in the show?

The sounds of the play range from real recordings and realistic constructed soundscapes to strange distorted worlds and purely abstract sounds. We treat Wendy’s voice in various ways, and as well as conventional speakers we have a pair of wireless headphones for each audience member.

How does the sound design reflect the writing?

The play follows a character who comes to question her sense of reality. When as a team we were considering ways to express this in the design of the world the actor plays in, we resolved to blur the audience’s sense of what sound is “real” and what isn’t. Headphones can help achieve this because they give us good control over exactly what the audience hears – and what they don’t!

How have the unique elements of the play – a one-woman show set on a plane – defined the sound design?

Most people on a plane these days seem to be wearing headphones, so there’s a literal relationship to the plane. But more interestingly, headphones isolate us. Normally in theatre we are subconsciously aware of those around us (we laugh with them, cry with them, and even apparently synchronise our heartbeats.) But when everyone wears headphones we are more isolated than usual. Instead we can form a closer bond with the actor, whose voice in our ears feels more intimate. Plus, because she’s speaking through a microphone, Wendy can use a wider range of her voice – a whisper can be audible to everyone. And that’s very handy for an intimate, confessional play like this.

What can audience members expect to experience and feel?

Well, although everyone should hear the same thing, I’m sure everyone will feel different things! Hopefully what will come across is that sense of dislocated reality, and a mistrust of what the world is saying to us. Some people, I’d imagine, might dislike the experience. But we’ve tried to avoid some of the pitfalls: the type of headphones we’ve chosen are comfortable, have decent sound quality, and are compatible with almost all types of hearing aid. They even have a volume control.

What’s exciting about designing for The Yard?

The Yard is really imaginative and supportive of strong ideas. The decision to use headphones came in quite far along in our design discussions, but The Yard has been brilliant in helping us make it all possible. The space itself is unique: it’s cavernous and airy but has a close acoustic (all that lovely unvarnished wood!), and we’re looking forward to discovering more and more about it as we go.

A Kettle of Fish runs until October 13.