If you've seen Keith Warner's Wozzeck, you've seen one of the most spectacular special effects ever staged in the Royal Opera House. Whose jaw has not dropped at the sight of Simon Keenlyside immersed motionless in a tank full of water for several minutes? In front of 2,000+ people, after 90 hectic minutes on stage?
Many of you will have worked out the sneaky secret behind the stunt, but judging by my emails it seems not everyone.
So here - using only legit production photos to demonstrate - is how it's done.
I appreciate not everyone wants their illusions shattered, so IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW, STOP READING HERE.
In essence the trick is a simple one. Wozzeck has an air pipe - one end goes in his mouth, the other is outside the tank. If your seat is stage left and not too far back, you can see the whole thing from the side.
In the photo below, spot the clear plastic hose running from front to back at the top left of the water tank. The closest end terminates in a snorkel mouthpiece - clear plastic again - and the one at the back runs out through a hole in the tank. You can just see the hose hanging down at the back.
It's even more obvious in the photo below. Just look directly above Simon Keenlyside's shoulder.
And again - see how the rims and reflections camouflage the apparatus?
When Simon enters the tank, he's singing and splashing around, an old magician's trick to distract the eye as he grabs the mouthpiece and slips it in. Once he's submerged, he deftly slips the hose under his right armpit so it's mostly hidden from view. Below you can see it emerging from behind his left shoulder.
A regular snorkel has a large external mouthpiece. Simon appears to use something much smaller, which slips into his mouth unobtrusively. As he doesn't use either a full mask or a nose clip, he has to be careful not to inhale the contents of the tank. I'm not quite sure what he's up to in the photo below, but he could be covering his nostrils to avoid an accident.
He managed to divert a catastrophe of some sort tonight. It was just seconds before the end when a spray of bubbles suddenly shot upwards. Simon yanked out the mouthpiece, then rolled deftly over and rose to the surface, where he rested with his face turned towards the rear and the back of his head still submerged - just like a floating corpse. Plan B successfully executed. I'm sure 99% of the audience thought it was part of the show. Just goes to prove the stunt is neither foolproof nor risk-free - and probably deserves some sort of medal.
all photos Catherine Ashmore/Royal Opera House