The Old Market, Hove
Monday 23 September
VR Parlour | Review
An Eye-Opening Experience
Sit side by side with David Attenborough, explore a world of war that we have been lucky enough not to endure, and delve into the workings of Aardman Animations and the BBC in a tale of two sisters dealing with a trauma from two completely different perspectives.
TOM Tech is a festival of cutting-edge technology now in its fourth year at The Old Market in Hove, and this year just one of the offerings in store was the Virtual Reality Parlour. Setup in TOM’s bar which was beautifully decorated, the parlour welcomes small groups of people each hour to explore each and every one of these incredible stories in an intimate and interactive experience.
We began our evening with ‘Hold The World With David Attenborough’ presented by Sky VR and Factory 42. The layout of the room was set up with individual tables and chairs, once you place the headset on you’re instantly taken to the Natural History Museum, and you’re given free rein to explore whatever fascinates you most. Various objects are on display, and rooms that can be entered. Once an object is chosen, you are given an in-depth analysis of what these artefacts are by the man himself. But this isn’t just sitting and watching, you have a pair of hands to handle the objects yourself, you can rotate them, enlarge them, and even put on the skull of a pre-historic dinosaur (this was just a personal feat of mine, something I could enjoy in VR but would certainly get kicked to for in real life!). Just some of the things you can interact with are parts of a stegosaurus, a trilobite, a dragonfly, a blue whale and a pterosaur, and if you don’t know what all of those things are, then you’ve come to the perfect place to find out. The real magic is sitting with Mr Attenborough, as he gives you personal one on one teachings and reveals stories from history in a way that only he can. For me, this kind of experience further immortalises the greatest wildlife explorer of all time, and this unique way of learning is so multi-dimensional that I think this will be used in schools everywhere in the not so far future.
The second exhibit ‘Empire Soldiers’ presented by Metro-Boulet-Dodo tells the compelling stories of the forgotten Caribbean and South Asian soldiers of World War 1, a timely piece to mark the centenary of the end of the Great War. The piece shows how far we, as a functioning society, have come in the space of 100 years, or in fact, how far we haven’t come in terms of racial equality and recognition. In one of the two stories, you are joined by a soldier on the front line, and you share the experiences of his return home, and to the present day. You step into his world, in the trench, on the train, at home, as he recites moving poetry as the chaos ensues around you both. All of your senses are engaged as whilst you see and hear the touching words the soldier says, all around you are the sounds of carriages cluttering, bombs exploding, sirens screaming. Everywhere you look in this 720-degree experience, there is so much depth. Whilst you want to stare at the soldier narrating the poetry, your eyes get distracted by the fire crackling nearby, the view outside of the window which turns from a thing of peace and tranquillity to a dusty desolate wasteland affected by the war. The narrative is poignant and gripping, and I felt so emotional following these true stories, and the journeys of these real people, or real experiences at least. As the setting changes every few minutes, they even used locations across Brighton which added a touch of local history to the experience. The slow soundtrack also paints the emotions of the story and further emphasises the sincerity of it in such a mesmerising manner.
I have of course saved my favourite until last which was ‘Is Anna Okay?’ by Aardman Animations and the BBC. Designed for two people to interact with it, there is a beautifully designed set in real life in which one person sits on a park bench whilst the other stands behind. In the true story of two twin sisters thrown apart by one night, one of you is the girl who has physically experienced a trauma, and the other is the sister trying to deal with it the events unfolding before her. You step into their shoes and into a beautifully illustrated world, exploring their memories through objects, as you uncover the truth from both perspectives. Anna, after having a car accident, has had a fatal head injury, she has trouble recalling memories so you see the world through her eyes. Distorted, confusing, hectic, loud and yet quiet. It deals with her struggles to connect with people, and her trouble dealing with everyday situations. Although this sounds bleak, also at the heart of the story is the sisters’ love for one another, their devotion and friendship. Although it certainly is a tragic event that unfolds, it is such an eye opener, quite literally, into the mindset of someone who has experienced all of these emotions. Having seen both sides of the story I was left feeling so moved, and grateful to have had that unique experience. The empathy you have for the characters is so strong and the Virtual Reality connects us to these stories in a way that no other medium can. There was so much interaction embedded throughout the story, that with another moving soundtrack and amazing animation, left me feeling mesmerised.
For me, the VR Parlour was a mind-blowing experience, and it has been used in such a positive way. It is insightful, educational, emotional and above all extremely entertaining. We are stepping into the future of what it means to experience something, and this festival combines the joy of watching your favourite films, with the interactive experience of live entertainment.
Reviewer: Stephen Sheldrake
To buy tickets or to learn more about the VR Parlour visit http://theoldmarket.com/shows/vr-parlour/