A little girl is sat looking up at you with crystal-clear blue eyes. A moment ago she wasn’t there, and neither was the canary cage at the head of her bed or the yellow bird hoping and jumping from perch to perch. A second later she’s gone again and we’re in a forest. Knowing teenagers stare you down, their hands slowly beginning to move to the side of your head as you fight an increasing sense of foreboding and fascination. Now we’re back in the room as a woman’s head is kneaded into shape.
The world of Alma Mater is a discombobulating experience: things change and shift with the magic of a virtual reality while you stand and walk firmly in the present one. A solo experience, it all takes place in a sparse bedroom that you never really see with your own two eyes. From the start you are taught to see only through the glassy eye of an iPad where anything can occur.
This place is delicate but laced with danger. You feel constantly on edge. Unable to settle in the actual world, you move around the room following each character, spending your time chasing shadows but dealing with concrete feelings as they look at you with reproach, beckon you with a grin.
By the end of the twenty minutes I am exhausted; they ask a lot from you these silent apparitions but your complicity only serves to heighten the stakes in what is a powerful emotional work. Alma Mater feels fragile and desperately complex, filled with potent imagery that makes no narrative sense but hits you somewhere much deeper. By the end of it I had a strange lump in my throat that rises again now, even as I remember it.