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Dan Osbaldeston • THE KEY OF DREAMS

Written By:

Ed Fortune
Dan Osbaldeston

Dan Osbaldeston is a live interpreter, actor and performer best known for his work in interactive theatre and immersive works. He’s currently working with Lemon Difficult,  a critically acclaimed immersive experience company, on their  H.P. Lovecraft-inspired event, The Key of Dreams. We caught up with Dan to find out more…

STARBURST: How would you pitch The Key of Dreams to someone who’s really into costumes?

Dan Osbaldeston: Exploring a weird fiction mystery while in historical clothing sounds like great fun. Although there’s no requirement to attend Key of Dreams in costume, guests are perfectly welcome to dress for the occasion if they wish. Our previous offer, The Locksmith’s Dream, certainly saw many guests turn up in their 1920s finest or even just dessing for dinner. They plainly had a great time and looked great while doing so!

How did you get into The Key of Dreams?

I’m a live interpreter by trade, using costumed characters to help people better enjoy and understand a visit to a museum or historical site. My skills and networking have also led to involvement in many murder mystery treasure hunts and, since lockdown, online puzzle rooms. Live-action roleplay is another connection, of course. My LARP taste runs to vintage horror, which is obviously exactly the same well that The Key of Dreams is drawing from.

How is The Key of Dreams different from normal theatre?

Oh, I’m not going to get drawn into a discussion of what ‘normal theatre’ is! Where it differs from the theatre that most people might expect, however, is that there is no set script or stage directions. The guests aren’t so much an audience expected to sit in place and watch, but rather they are invited to participate, occupy, and explore the same space and world as the performers. Their input affects the way events unfold and can fundamentally change the stories and their outcome.

Why does horror work so well for this sort of event?

A suggestion of peril sets the heart beating a little faster and makes you more alert, with eyes and ears a little wider. You know it’s perfectly safe at one level, but your brain can still be tricked into releasing exciting chemicals. I think people ride rollercoasters or visit haunted house attractions for similar reasons – a sense of danger we know and trust is an illusion but feels thrilling nonetheless.

What was the most challenging part of the production?

It’s a very elaborate production, so I imagine everyone involved will have a different answer. For me, the most challenging part has been trying to get my head round the whole thing. Eventually, I realised I don’t have to know the exact ins and outs of what everyone else is doing, I just need to do my part right!

How do you prepare for a role like this?

There’s been a lot of reading material to get through – thank heavens for audio versions that I can put on while cooking or sewing, I say! For the most part, though, my preparation has been reminding myself that I’ve made a career out of being able to take a character brief and improvise appropriately with it. I can’t know exactly what the guests are going to ask or say or do, but that’s the joy (and terror!) of this sort of role.

Where do you find inspiration for the horror aspects of this role?

The Key of Dreams draws very much on the weird fiction of the early twentieth century (and a little earlier and later). H.P. Lovecraft is the big name there, of course, but we’re drawing on several other authors, as well as some original pieces written in their styles. The site itself is also an inspiration, of course. Treowen is a lovely old house in the Welsh Marches, very charming by daylight. But once night has fallen, it can feel very isolated from civilisation and the real world.

What’s next for you?

The Key of Dreams will run again, as will The Locksmith’s Dream. Other big features in my diary for the coming year include Open The Box Productions’ SOE: Resistance, a LARP exploring the work of the Special Operations Executive. I also hope to return to the Baltic for another voyage with Sailing4Adventure’s Demeter, a LARP set during Chapter 7 of Dracula.

What other projects would you love to be involved with?

Something set in Antarctica. Maybe with some Norwegians and a dog.

Dragons or Deathstars?

I have long wished for an orbital death ray.

Doctor Who or Doctor No?

Doctor Mabuse

Truth or Beauty?

Freedom, Love?

Booking for THE KEY OF DREAMS and THE LOCKSMITH’S KEY can be found here.


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