London's appetite for immersive adventure shows no sign of abating. Last year's most engrossing experience came from new-comers dotdotdot theatre company, who took us deep into the realm of lucid dreaming with their immersive experience Somnai. Now, dotdotdot return, this time with a site-specific, immersive adventure based on both H. G. Wells’ sci-fi novel The War of the Worlds and the 1978 best-selling album it inspired: Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds.
The 110-minute experience sees groups of up to 12 guests transported back to the misty streets and lavish parlours of Victorian England. Here, they must follow George Herbert and his fiancee Carrie (the named protagonists who replaced Wells’ anonymous narrator and his wife in Wayne’s album) in their mission to win back the city following an invasion from Mars.
The experience takes place in a 22,000 sq ft warehouse fitted with 10 experience rooms, each of which employs different forms of multi-sensory technology to heighten the experience. At times, you’ll wander through corridors and into drawing rooms decorated with Punckdrunk-esque attention to detail, while other scenes see you don a VR headset and become a character in the narrative. You’ll hear from holographic figures, dodge the flames thrown by towering martians, board rowing boats, clamber through windows and, in perhaps the most eerie scene of all, be plunged into total darkness as sounds and vibrations feed your imagination’s deepest fears.
Perhaps you’ve worn a virtual reality (VR) headset before. The technology has become a common trick found everywhere from gaming arcades to art galleries. But you probably haven’t experienced VR as all-encompassing as that found here. Without giving too much away, the combination of entering visually captivating worlds while your other senses are also stimulated (be it from a damp sea breeze blowing in your face or musty incense perfuming your nostrils) is advanced. When you board a ship and ride the sea waves, you really feel like that’s what you’re doing – and you might even feel a little nauseous.
That said, it’s not seamless. There are small hitches in the VR that are likely, in time, to be ironed out. More emphasis could also be placed on building a sense of comradery within the team who travel through the experience together. Having journeyed through The War of the Worlds as a five, it’s also hard to imagine how certain moments could be coordinated for a group as large as 12. But what wins The War of the Worlds its stars is first and foremost the show’s pioneering use of VR that offers immersive experience enthusiasts something not currently found elsewhere in the city.
Secondly and crucially, the acting does not take a backseat to the show’s aesthetics, as it does in several of London’s immersive experiences, where wince-worthy entertainers have replaced actors. Here, the cast are strong; apt at nurturing awkward audience members through the narrative and authentic in living their scenes with impassioned emotions.
Finally, The War of the Worlds does what it says on the tin: it’s an immersive retelling of Wells’ novel laced with the songs and characters of Wayne’s album, who, incidentally, worked with dotdotdot to see his music brought to life through the company’s state-of-the-art, ‘layered reality’ techniques.
Whether you’re a sci-fi fan, a keen gamer or a promenade theatre enthusiast, if you’re planning on booking one immersive experience in London this summer, The War of the Worlds should be it.
|What||Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds: The Immersive Experience review|
|Where||The Old Metal Exchange, 52-56 Leadenhall Street, London, EC3M 5JE | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Aldgate (underground)|
16 May 19 – 31 Mar 20, Times Vary
|Website||Click here for more information|