Another immersive production comes to The Vaults, this one plunging its audience into a mixture of Victorian London and futuristic sci-fi. Daniel Perks chats to the designers of The Crystal Egg during the get-in:

We stand in one of The Vaults’ cavernous spaces underneath Waterloo station – it’s The Long Wet One to be precise. Except that now it’s a Victorian replica of Seven Dials and a curiosity shop, the set designed with the utmost detail by Jason Kelvin. I look around, trying to spot signs of futuristic installations, and see none. They must be well hidden, the surprise aspect to the world premiere of H.G. WellsThe Crystal Egg:

Jason: There’s a detail in immersive theatre that is the same as when you work on a film, because of the level of focus. What I want is for the audience to walk around when they come in here – it’s about using the whole space but making sure that everyone feels it to be intimate.

Elif: A slummed in feeling, but stretched out, using the reality and then fusing it into the history. That’s how I work with a director – bringing the real and the imaginary all together.

The Crystal Egg The Vaults

Elif Knight

We’re standing in The Crystal Egg‘s curiosity shop, piled high with knick-knacks that would have taken years for an individual to amass. The detail in all parts of this production is the true essence of immersive theatre – it’s an invite to touch, to interact, to experience. But director Elif Knight’s vision is not one of comfort and it’s certainly not one of disconnect:

Elif: There is a fourth wall and there are moments where we break it for a reason. It’s immersive but there is still this other world; we are creating a sense of the ‘other’ because this is sci-fi. It’s the whole atmosphere – a modern audience sitting in a Victorian space – that creates this.

Audiences are so used to comfortable work – we pay a lot of money and sit in the front row.

But I don’t want you to be comfortable

It’s important to involve audiences; by immersing them, you interest audiences to read the literature and discover H. G. Wells.

David: That disconnect between audience and stage is really disempowering at times, especially when you’re trying to connect with a younger audience. Being on top of the action, being constantly aware that someone might come up to you and involve you in it, that’s key.

Come and be a part of the action, don’t be removed from it

Elif: It’s the uncertainty. This story is about those elements coming together, so make them uncertain. That’s what life is about.

Jason: The beautiful thing about a space like this is that there are no constraints. We’re free from any traditional theatricality; it’s completely stripped back and raw as a starting point. 

David: There’s a real beauty in the mess here. It’s non-sterile, a non-standard way of doing things.

The Crystal Egg The Vaults

Image courtesy of Miryana Ivanova

Elif and Jason are clearly on the same page, as is sound designer David Nicholas. They get that the core of an immersive experience is one in which you don’t spectate, but interact. You prepare yourself to be caught off guard by something spectacular, something so unbelievable that it may be alien:

Simeon: Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, so all the things that the aliens are doing is just by using their technology. A lot of the futuristic stuff therefore is just a more modern fixture.

Jason: There’s a level of expectation from people, but there’s also a mass eclectic feel that you can play with. Now the set and the light can start work together to give the audience a shift in the environment, make them feel otherworldly rather than sitting in a Victorian curiosity shop.

The Crystal Egg The Vaults

Image courtesy of Miryana Ivanova

Lighting designer Simeon Miller touches on an interesting point that harks to the core, not only of this production, but that of H. G. Wells’ futuristic philosophy. It’s the feeling that being alien is indistinguishable from being technologically advanced. So, in The Crystal Egg, the magic of an immersive reality runs in parallel with that of the otherworldly, yet believable, setting:

Simeon: Nobody knows what this period of time looked like, so I’m trying to make people realise and understand where they are without having to think about it twice. It’s an instant acceptance. In my opinion, good lighting design should be invisible to a degree – I don’t want you to think how good the lights are, I want you to be paying attention to what’s going on in the space.

David: It’s a holistic appreciation with sound as well. At no point do I want anyone to analyse all the chords I’ve put together, or appreciate any key changes. It should just be a feeling. I work as simple and authentic as possible, I never try to actively draw attention to the design.

The challenge is to make people feel uncertain, but with everything similar enough for you to connect with it subconsciously. If it’s too futuristic, there’s a disconnect, so people don’t engage with it enough.

Jason: You shouldn’t be thinking about any one thing, but be so immersed in the action that everything else is just a way to bring you to that point.

 

To read more about The Crystal Egg, which plays at The Vaults from 6 – 13 January 2018, follow the company on Twitter (@OldLampEnt) or visit the theatre’s website – www.thevaults.london