The Masquerade of Death

Posted in Audio by - August 12, 2018
The Masquerade of Death

Released March 2005

Bernice and Adrian find themselves imprisoned in the crumbling palace in the Prison Season of Spring, Bernice seemingly set up to take the fall for a murder. Realising that her only way out may just be to play along with fiction, Bernice finds her entire existence and future called into question as she tries to find out if there is someone pulling the strings from behind the curtain.

This is an audio range that boldly started out with a living pantomime and has never looked back in terms of exploring completely audacious concepts, but the metafiction comprising Stewart Sheargold’s ‘The Masquerade of Death’ is arguably the most bizarre foundation for a story yet. Yet despite this being a miscellany of ideas in a constantly resetting and evolving tale that revels in Bernice’s inconsistencies between writers, her glorious clichés, and trademark facetiousness, Bernice is afforded an incredible amount of insight and introspection. She is a woman who progresses emotionally, but there’s rarely indication that she has any sort of future in mind for herself given how she lives in the moment with few seeming repercussions from her previous harrowing exploits. She is kind, wise, brave, and witty, but she also realises that she is not the best with men or motherhood and that she at times can be described as insulting, reckless, and foolish. However, despite an outsider’s viewpoint that her wild escapades and apparent multiple personalities could only mean that she is a fictional construct, the mysterious Player who seems to run this world has no qualms admitting that he will love to play the part of Bernice going forward, and her integration into this world that brings her such power and comfort threatens her very existence.

For a story that delves so incredibly deeply into Bernice’s psyche, it’s quite strange that Jason and Braxiatel are not featured since that leaves vast swathe of the character left unexplored, but it’s also hard to imagine the concept of this story being able to credibly extend to encompass two more characters without running thin and becoming a burden and repetitious. As it is, it allows Adrian to get some much-needed time in the spotlight even if he understandably is not himself here, and Bernice and he certainly have plenty to still discuss and reconcile. Within this prison, the Spinster tries to keep the world running while recording every word and action and transcribing them into a book, allowing a certain element of time travel within these confines via rewinding and fast forwarding that is used to remarkable- and at times remarkably comedic- effect. Yet with the Player and his audacious rhyming verse and wit no more than a distraction who takes real people to add to his cast, the identity of the jailer running this world split into different seasons that cannot be crossed is much less obvious and makes the virus targeting Bernice within the real world all the more satisfying as events are finally put into perspective.

There is naturally an element of overacting at certain points, but it serves the heightened bizarreness of the situation perfectly, and each performance is pitched perfectly to allow this most unexpected introspection laden with jokes and references to come to life remarkably well. Culminating with a great verbal spar between the Player and Bernice, ‘The Masquerade of Death’ is unafraid of deconstructing the entire series and looking deeply into the many strengths and weaknesses of its charismatic lead, resulting in one of the most inventive and entertaining releases of the series yet. Such an experiment has every potential of falling flat or devolving into a muddled mess, but John Ainsworth’s smart direction along with a masterful sound design ensure that all elements eventually come together into an immensely satisfying whole that ends this fifth series on a remarkable high.

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