KILN – A Journey Round My Skull

A Journey Round My Skull (TEASER) from Mathew Beckett on Vimeo.

A Journey Round My Skull – Opened at Bristol Old Vic Studio 12th February 2014

I worked as sound designer for A Journey Round My Skull by KILN (formerly Kindle Theatre). The project was inspired by the extraordinary medical memoir written by Hungarian satirist Frigyes Karinthy. The memoir presents the author’s account of his diagnosis with a brain tumour and its subsequent removal during awake brain surgery.

A journey round my skull production shot
Photographs © Jonathan Blackford 2014

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(the above excerpts are intended to be heard via headphones)

In collaboration with writer Nick Walker, Olivia Winteringham adapted this memoir into a one woman show in which the tumour and its surgical removal become a metaphor for the lengths one might go to to eradicate painful or embarrassing memories. Frigyes experienced aural hallucinations as a symptom of his condition and we developed this as a central idea in the work. We also used sound as the medium through which to recreate the experience of brain surgery. This involved research and sound recording inside hospital operating theatres and the use of binaural sound, delivered via headphones, to create an intimate and personal experience for each audience member.

The tale unfolds slowly and gently until we’re taken inside the patient’s brain during surgery; not only does Iain Armstrong’s sound design, heard through headphones, agonisingly convey every slice of the knife, every shiver through the cells, but the extent of the neurosurgeon’s sexual obsession becomes icily apparent.
Maddy Costa – The Guardian

A journey round my skull production shot

For the operation, audience-members don headphones and experience Iain Armstrong’s clinically detailed binaural soundscape. As Barossa’s voice guides events around a model head, sounds of shaving, scraping and incising seem to be in individual craniums, with equipment and people moving only inches away. Such technical wizardry of the present age is also integral to an adventurous piece that applies both acting and technical sophistication to examine a part of life that touches on the essential matter of human identity.
Timothy Ramsden – Reviews Gate

The show was a Bristol Old Vic Ferment commission and toured in Spring 2014 to venues in Bristol, Cambridge, Manchester, Birmingham, Norwich, Wolverhampton and London. Directed by Graeme Rose, set and lighting design by Ben Pacey.

Journey Round My Skull is appearing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe through August 2014.

The company have found a powerfully disconcerting reconstruction of the surgery process that forms the heart of the relationship they dramatise. Binaural sound design by Iain Armstrong projected through headphones put on by every audience member brings the experience of brain surgery – undertaken under local anaesthetic – to alarmingly vivid and personal life. Now the auditory hallucinations that are symptoms of the illness, even the contact of scalpel on tissue and the voices in the protagonist’s head, are in our heads and feel completely shared.
Beccy Smith – Total Theatre

This is a beguiling and beautiful story, but bears no sentimentality. The harsh reality of unrequited love, the passionate, destructive power of a brief affair and the grief when it is over is made all too real.
Jen Bowden – The List ****

Winteringham’s delivery is close and personal which draws the audience in and when we do put on the headphones, it feels as if she is talking directly to us. Particularly when Julia removes the tumour as the closeness of the audio makes the audience feel like the centre of the surgery. This sensory audio combined with the touching and emotive narrative results in a powerful and tactile theatrical experience.
Steven Fraser – TV Bomb ****

A Journey Round My Skull is a superb piece of theatre: intense, in-depth, and thoroughly compelling throughout. Winteringham holds the audience spellbound and the innovative use of technology draws us even further into the fascinating world of a mind gone wrong. This is a unique theatrical experience and one definitely worth having.
Tom King – Broadway Baby *****

Kiln Ensemble have created something really special in A Journey Round my Skull. …  Simply beautiful.
Rosalind Othen

This unhappy love story is wedged between the stark contrasts of pure feeling and pure science. And it really gets inside your head. … It’s a visceral and uncomfortable sensation brilliantly manipulated by smart, realistic sound design.
Daisy Bowie-Sell – Time Out ****

Iain Armstrong’s sound design, heard through the headphones, transports us from our seats into the operating chair. With stunning auditory clarity we hear every slice of the knife, every murmur of machinery, every whisper around the ear. Though the staging during this moment is beautiful in its abstraction, close your eyes, and let the sound wash over you. For that alone, this is a journey worth making.
Adam Foster – A Younger Theatre ***

Winteringham makes a coolly persuasive medical practitioner and Iain Armstrong’s sound design provides a startlingly intimate immersion into the effect of wide-awake surgery.
David Upton – British Theatre Guide

Full details are available on the KILN website.