The Victorian slums of Seven Dials are the setting for H.G. Wells’ iconic story of period science fiction – Wells is renowned for stretching the parameters of 19th century imagination, past the boundaries of the Earth, into space and beyond. The Crystal Egg is a similar tale of alien technology, beautiful in its design by Jason Kelvin and hauntingly lit by Simeon Miller. But, as the egg slowly warps the minds of those around it and distances them from their harsh realities, so too are we distanced by Elif Knight’s production. We are trapped between an immersive introduction and a reserved storyline, unsure whether to fully engage or whether to disconnect and observe.

The Crystal Egg The Vaults

Desmond Carney (image courtesy of Miryana Ivanova)

The author of this tale, Wells (Edwin Flay), sits among us and listens to its narrator and protagonist, Charley Wace (Desmond Carney). The narrative flits between past and present smoothly, but in way that divides the tale into pre-defined book chapters. Mike Archer’s script presents the story clearly, but it doesn’t draw in its audience – as soon as we begin to submerse ourselves in the characters, we are snapped back into the present. The fog of Wace’s memories lifts and we are left as disappointed as Wells himself appears.

As a concept, The Crystal Egg is epitomised by its designers – Knight has brought together a cohesive vision that is beautifully realised in its intricacy. The set encapsulates Kelvin’s eye for detail – a world of knick-knacks and trinkets that we want to explore further, an immersive haven that we are never quite given the opportunity to discover. David Nicholas’ sound design haunts us periodically from the background – a subtly creeping set of dynamic, hollow monotones, coupled with a live, lamenting violin (Rebekah Harvey) that interweaves and pervades our subconscious. The result makes the hairs on the back of hair stand on end without us even realising, as we twitch and quiver in time with the ever-shifting atmosphere that centres around the egg itself.

The Crystal Egg The Vaults

Image courtesy of Miryana Ivanova

But it is Miller’s lighting that elevates The Crystal Egg, an understated series of background glows that hint at the presence of something otherworldly. We sit in a beautifully crafted Victorian curiosity shop but are transported past the confines of reality, as we all stare into a luminescent beauty that shines out from the egg. Miller’s design draws us in, exactly as the alien technology twists and warps the perspective of its owner and his uncle, Mr Cave (Mark Parsons). We fixate on the light that dances across the cavernous walls of The Vaults, staring harder and harder to define the multitude of colours within.

In many ways, the actors play a supporting role to the immersive concept of The Crystal Egg. Each give pleasant, if forgettable, performances – Anna-Jacoby’s (Carolina Main) twitching, unnerving mannerisms and Parsons’ slow descent into madness are the stand-out roles. But there is something lacking in the cast’s overall theatrical delivery, in the same way that there is something that fails to fully connect the show with its audience.

The Crystal Egg The Vaults

Mark Parsons & Jessica Boyde (image courtesy of Miryana Ivanova)

The Crystal Egg is an enticing proposition, one that attempts to fuse immersive theatre with a more traditional experience. Wells successfully combined sci-fi with the drudgery of Victorian reality in his novel – this production is less successful in fusing these combating performance styles.

 

★★★☆☆

To read more about The Crystal Egg, which plays at The Vaults until 13 January 2018, follow the company on Twitter (@OldLampEnt) or visit the theatre’s website – www.thevaults.london

To read more about The Crystal Egg‘s design, click here for an interview with the creative team.