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Theatre Review: ‘Frogman’ Offers A Brand-New Virtual Reality Theatre Experience

This supernatural murder-mystery by Curious Directive weaves virtual reality with traditional theatre elements for a thrilling coming-of-age story.

Step into the future of theatre with Frogman, a murder mystery that makes use of both virtual reality (VR) technology and elements of traditional theatre performance. Produced by Curious Directive, a Norwich-based theatre company that often takes on a scientific perspective in its shows, the show alternates between the present real-life – performed spectacularly by Annabel Betts – and the past, in 3D virtual reality, thanks to VR goggles and headsets.

Photo: Richard Lakos

As the audience, we are instructed to put the headsets and goggles on, and take them off at intervals; and the play is framed with us playing the part of the “jury”, with the VR videos as “evidence” for a investigation of an alleged murder that was committed in 1995.

We found ourselves immersed in the story of how Meera, a coral reef scientist, is being entangled in the disappearance of her childhood friend Ashleigh back in 1995 – and how her father, the eponymous Frogman and police diver, is now being charged for her murder. Watching through our VR goggles, the timeline rewound to when Meera was young, having sleepovers with her friends, the blurry, sepia-toned video playback much like that of an 80s-style videotape. The chairs we sat on could spin 360 degrees, allowing for us to, as we went back in time, look around Meera’s bedroom, and feel as if we were with her.

Photo: Richard Lakos

There’s also footage of Meera’s father searching for Ashleigh underwater, amongst the coral reefs – the sound of the waves and oxygen bubbles engulfing us, the gorgeous yet almost claustrophobic view within a diver’s goggles so very realistic.

In between, Annabel Betts’ performance as the now grown-up Meera is stunning: she performs alone onstage, interviewed by a policewoman – someone who we can only hear, but not see. The anguish and  fear in her body language, the wonder in her voice as she recounts her friendship with Ashleigh, is amazing.

However, the alternations of VR and performance felt a little too disjointed – like strong-arming technology into the narrative. The story itself was wonderful: a compelling coming-of-age tale about small-town life and regret, but execution of the live story-telling with VR seemed too clunky.

Frogman runs from 21st to 26th May 2019 at the SOTA Studio Theatre. Tickets are sold out.  

The 2019 Singapore International Festival of the Arts runs across various venues until 2nd June 2019. Click here for more information.