Diving on the Great Barrier Reef is the chance of a lifetime that many can only dream of, but now you can do it without even getting your feet wet!
Norwich theatre-goers will be able to gaze on the underwater wonders of a tropical sea without leaving their seats as FROGMAN takes them beneath the waves in a 60-minute live theatre experience which combines spellbinding storytelling with ultra high definition virtual reality vision and binaural sound.
This ground-breaking form of theatre will be presented in Stage Two, at Norwich Theatre Royal, from April 24-28, and over the space of an hour, audiences will experience a story told using techniques which plunge them into the heart of the environment.
The show is the brainchild of pioneering theatre group Curious Directive, an innovative Norwich-based theatre company led by artistic director Jack Lowe which creates contemporary theatre pieces exploring science. He describes FROGMAN as “innovative, exciting and heartfelt” – a coming-of-age crime thriller exploring motherhood and the fragility of childhood imagination in which part of the show is presented as traditional live performance, but then the audience is asked to put on virtual reality (VR) headsets and step into the past.
It is 1995 in Australia and Meera is 11 and on her first sleepover with two friends when police divers hover over the moonlit Great Barrier Reef, searching for a missing girl. Fast forward 23 years to 2018 and in Sydney the investigation into the disappearance of the missing girl is reopened. Meera is now a coral reef scientist and a detective interrupts her research and forces her to excavate her past and investigate fragments of her childhood imagination.
Jack explained: “You are going into a theatre but you are interacting with digital technology in a completely new way. The audience is framed as a jury and is presented with fragments of evidence and testimony about what happened in 1995. Elements of it drift into the supernatural as well, which I think is a nice reflection on what it is to be an 11-year-old where everything is possible – the childhood imagination is something which is so exciting to watch play out in this show.”
Aimed at audiences aged 12-plus, it has attracted theatre-goers up to 88. “The reaction is invariably that people are amazed by the synergy of a live theatre show and VR. I think also they are not expecting it to be such an emotional story about difficult areas of childhood and coming to terms with your past,” Jack said.
He filmed the dive scenes himself and said: “Not many people can dive and who can afford to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef – and not just financially, but also if you can’t dive because of any form of disability – so there is great opportunity to go diving inside coral reefs and see a story play out in super high definition and be transported from Stage Two to some of the most beautiful corals in the world.”
Curious Directive, the 2016 winner of the Norfolk Arts Award theatre category, has previously brought other shows to Norwich – Spindrift (about sailing and quantum biology) in 2015, Pioneer (about going to Mars) in 2014 and The Kindness of Strangers (set in an ambulance) in 2013, as well as Your Last Breath and After the Rainfall prior to that. Jack described this latest venture into virtual reality as “a very new experience”.
“I think possibly it is the future of this information technology age that we don’t really know how to deal with. Theatre is quite slow to catch up compared to the application of VR in medicine and other fields, so this is looking at how theatre can embrace that technology as part of a new offer for live performance.”
As theatre-goers arrive for the show, an usher will chat through how the headset works and how it will be used. “When you put on a VR headset it is like you are in completely different room, so you can turn around 360 degrees and see everywhere around you on the coral reef or in this girl’s bedroom. You follow the story according to where you want to look which means everyone has a slightly different experience of the show, and you are sat on a swivel chair so you can rotate all the way round. So how the story is told is very cutting-edge, while the content is about piecing together a puzzle or a mystery and enjoying crime drama and watching great acting – the central acting performance is fantastic.”
He said that most audiences love the story or the tech in equal measure. “Anyone can put a VR set on at home and watch a video, but this is where storytelling and VR collide. It’s a good chance to use VR for the first time and in a theatre in a communal setting where people are in a room together experiencing a story, rather than downloading something and watching it sitting in a room alone.”
Curious Directive is thrilled to be returning to Jack’s home city once again and as a recipient of a new four-year Arts Council funding cycle as part of the new National Portfolio 2018-22, it has exciting plans ahead: “We will be touring the UK in the autumn and are also off on our first world tour taking in Shanghai and Beijing, Melbourne, Brisbane and Hong Kong,” Jack said, “so I think it is great for the city and great for us to be able to talk very proudly about Norwich.”