Norwich theatre company invites audiences to dive into a unique show
- Credit: David Monteith-Hodge / Photograp
Audiences are being invited to dive into a unique theatrical experience with curious directive's new show Frogman. Arts correspondent Emma Knights finds out more.
With its innovative shows theatre company, curious directive, has previously done everything from taking audiences on a city centre tour in the back of a moving ambulance to transporting them to outer space, and this time around people will once again have the chance to dive into a whole new performance experience.
Frogman - described as a coming-of-age thriller which combines live performance with 360 degree virtual reality - takes its audience out onto Australia's Great Barrier Reef and into new realms of theatrical possibilities.
'I like to think you won't have seen anything like it before,' said Jack Lowe, the 32-year-old artistic director of the Norwich-based company and the director of Frogman, proudly pointing out that this week the show's Norwich Arts Centre dates have made the top five UK theatre shows list in The Guardian.
'It is half VR (virtual reality), half live performance. You see live performance first, a scene with the live actor, and then VR, and then you dip in and out of VR and live performance while on rotating swivel chairs,' he said.
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'The idea of scuba diving and putting on a mask felt like a good analogy to putting on a mask for VR - and when you do it feels like you are really hovering over the corals.'
Despite the focus on experimenting with new ways of using digital technology, Jack is keen to point out that at the heart of the show is a strong storyline.
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Set in Australia in 1995, Frogman sees 11-year-old Meera enjoying her first sleepover, but when it is time for lights out her aquarium begins to glow and outside over the reef a police diver - or frogman - is looking for traces of a missing child.
'The major thing really is it's coming of age thriller,' Jack said.
'It's a baby step into what could be the future of digital performance but what I keep saying is there's a really solid story behind it.' He explained further: 'There's one actor (Tessa Parr) on stage and she's playing a coral reef scientist, and in the opening scene there's a detective who informs her that her father has been charged with the murder of a child in the mid 1990s. It's a crime thriller in that sense. It is really about how much as a child she saw what happened in 1995. It's that thing of the things you remember as opposed to the things what actually happened.'
He said VR was the key to taking the audience back in time and out onto the coral reef.
'VR is amazing for that...in the theatre it gives you a portal into a totally different world, you are so immersed in that world,' he said.
'It's really interesting, a lot of people have been talking about it as a watershed moment for the future of theatre, the use of VR as a tool for storytelling.'
Jack said the show - which was first inspired by him wanting to set a show in a coral reef because he had never seen that done before - was three years in the making and involved working with an array of marine and theatre specialists.
It also involved him learning to scuba dive so he could do underwater film shoots in Australia and also Indonesia.
'I went to Raja Ampat in Indonesia because the corals are still healthy there whereas as in Australia they are bleached,' Jack explained.
'The story doesn't look at climate change specifically but it is located in a time when the (Great Barrier Reef) corals were in a better condition.'
Jack and his curious directive team also filmed the sleepover scenes with four schoolchildren in Brisbane, Australia.
The show had its premiere at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre in August before starting its UK tour. After Norwich, its next stop is Hull, the UK City of Culture 2017, and next year it will be performed around the globe in places including Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and South Korea.
'This is the first [curious directive] show that feels like it's going to tour a lot internationally, which is really exciting for us,' said Jack, who founded curious directive in 2008.
The company's previous shows have included The Kindness of Strangers, which was inspired by paramedics and performed in the back of a travelling ambulance, and Pioneer, which took audiences on the first mission to Mars.
The double Fringe First award-winning company also received a major funding boost this year when it became one of Arts Council England's National Portfolio Organisations, meaning it will receive £359,272 over four years.
While Jack said he could not yet reveal the shows they would be doing in the future, it is clear there are lots of exciting ideas in the pipeline - so, once you have emerged from your theatrical scuba diving experience, watch this space.
Frogman is at Norwich Arts Centre today (Thursday) at 2pm and 4pm, and Saturday at 5pm and 8pm. The show is suitable for people aged 14 and over.
The ticket price is pay what you can. To book, visit www.norwichartscentre.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 660352.