Virtual Reality

National Theatre opens spellbinding virtual reality studio

By Kitty Knowles 3 August 2016

The National Theatre's Immersive Storytelling Studio is where dreams are made.

Whether you’re whisked away by the magic of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, or lost in the forests of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a good play will always transport you away from your seat.

It should comes as no surprise then that the National Theatre is already leading the way towards bringing you exciting new virtual experiences.

This week, we visited the theatre’s newly-opened Immersive Storytelling Studio in Waterloo, where it’s housed several VR experiences from past and future collaborations.

It’s been created to help writers, directors, designers and actors get to grips with the new media, and work towards making virtual experiences of their own.

“We want to empower people to work in new ways,” Toby Coffey, Head of Digital Development at National Theatre, told The Memo

“The power of the immersion is the thing that’s really transformative – theatre is immersive storytelling anyway this is just an extension of our work.”

It’s hoped that the studio will not only support greater creativity from the National Theatre, but help to engage wider audiences.  

“In 12-24 months time we might be on people’s game consoles in their living rooms, or someone might be watching a VR film on the back of a bus,” says Coffey.

Check out the experiences the National Theatre hopes will inspire the next generation of theatre-goers….

Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel

For this painterly VR experience you sit at the desk of Willie McNeive and time-travel to a moment that changed Ireland forever: the Easter Rising.

Produced by BBC Learning, Crossover Labs and VRTOV, this experience will be made accessible to theatre-goers in September in honour of the National Theatre’s latest production The Plough and the Stars.

You’ll see McNeive sat in his armchair recounting his experiences as photographs unfurl in front of you. You’ll step into his shadow, and you’ll witness the violence at key sites in Dublin.

Moving, mesmerising, and totally unforgettable.

Home: Aamir

This heart-wrenching VR documentary tells the story of Aamir, an asylum seeker who fled Sudan and lived in the Calais jungle before finally reaching Glasgow.

Home invites you to walk between makeshift shacks, hear the plastic walls rustling in the wind, and gain insight into the dark and deadly fear of crossing the seas.

It was created by a National Theatre team including writer Suhayla El-Bushra, and directors Toby Coffey (Digital Head), Erfan Saadati (Head of VR Production at Surround Vision) and Rufus Norris (Director of the National Theatre).

The piece premiered at Sheffield Doc Fest, but the team hope to bring it to wider audiences in the coming months, potentially alongside by new and different stories.

Alice in Wonderland virtual reality experience by Play Nicely VR. Pic: Play Nicely.
Alice in Wonderland virtual reality experience by Play Nicely VR. Pic: Play Nicely.

We’ve already written about the topsy-turvy world of

Created as to accompany a modern version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, you’ll fall down a vortex-like rabbit hole to a garden of curiosities.

Fairground music borders on creepy, as a giant cat head sings above you, and bright pulsating foliage dances in time.

The National Theatre have no immediate plans to bring this experience out again, but we can’t imagine such a wildly imaginative piece will stay out of reach for too long.

The future?

One of the final experiences we got to glimpse at the National Theatre’s new studio was an amazing wolf-like creature drawn in the magical 360° TiltBrush by Rae Smith.

The Olivier, Tony and OBIE award-winning set designer has booked into the Immersive Storytelling Studio once a week to experiment with the new kit.

To move around Smith’s artwork as flames licked up from the beast’s eyes was incredibly inspiring, and the theatrical potential of working in VR was striking.

We can’t wait to see what virtual goodies spring out of the National Theatre next.

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