by Fergus Church
[/activate sensory simulation database]
[sensory simulation database pending]
[sensory simulation database complete]
[location: vault festival]
[/see:] dim corridors. neon and spray paint and brick.
[/smell:] must. vimto-flavoured vape. cigarette smoke. beer.
[/feel:] water sweat-dripping onto crowns of heads. dusty warmth.
[/hear:] chatting. applause. glasses clinking behind the bar. a pub quiz announcer.
[/taste:] breath mints. mould in the air.
You won’t lie – you feel nervous to see RawTransportTM (the trademark is very important.) You are prone to get anxious in immersive, intimate productions, but in this case, you are lulled in by Electrick Village’s promise of a VR/theatre hybrid. Fascinated by this blend of tech with live performance, you make your way to the entrance of Vaults, descending to the dusty underground, only to be sent back above ground again to a dingy shipping container on the pavement outside.
You knock. And you are invited in by a charming stewardess, a marketer’s unrealistic idea of perfect customer service brought to life. You see four chairs set out and only two other audience members. Your heart skips a beat. This was going to even more intimate than you thought.
[location: shipping container]
[/see:] a small space. four wooden chairs, with VR headsets and earphones laid on them.
[/smell:] plywood. the stewardess’ perfume. a lingering of the street outside.
[/feel:] comfortably cool. worried goose bumps.
[/hear:] apprehensive giggling of the two friends that are taking part together.
[/taste:] [no information available – nervous dry mouth.]
The stewardess does her opening spiel and you feel compelled to smile and nod along. She introduces what RawTransportTM is: a roughly 20-minute experience. You will trial a new, revolutionary form of futuristic travel via 360-degree virtual reality, triggering all five of your senses for added realism. The stewardess is berated by her boss mid-speech, who otherwise sits in the corner, silently evaluating her performance.
Then, after signing a waiver to signal that you have no dietary restrictions and do not mind being touched, you’re asked to don your headset and jet off on your adventure.
[location: inside headset]
[/see:] field. seaside. beach house. desert. forest. english village.
[/smell:] grass. honey. sea salt. eucalyptus.
[/feel:] a cooling breeze. willow leaves tickling your ears. raindrops on the tip of your nose.
[/hear:] birds tweeting. crickets chirping. a voice, coming from somewhere or other.
[/taste:] a refreshing sip of icy lemonade.
And you’re whisked off to a variety of locations. Each one, providing a completely different sensory experience. A field of flowers comes with a genuine breeze that blows in the same direction that the flowers wave in (it’s the little things…) The smell of the sea, spraying off the ocean. And on your journey to each place, the muffled buzz of an aeroplane and the gentle vibration of its engine underneath you.
At first, you aren’t quite sure what to do. How to react. If anyone’s watching you.
But soon you begin to get the hang of it. You want to explore.
You forget just glancing left and right, and turn to look behind you at the cliffs and forests and expansive views you’d otherwise miss. You crane your neck to smell the ocean and wonder if the stewardess can hear you sniffing the spray. You want to stick your tongue out to catch the raindrops, but manage to hold back the urge. At one point, when a character in the simulation offers you a drink, you lean forward and a straw is there, right where it should be. You take a sip.
[location: inside headset]
[/hear:] a voice
Then, just as you’re beginning to settle into your travels, images begin hacking into your
holiday. A mysterious voice polluting the desert winds. A computerised void flickering inside the glitches.
And yet, it is in these attempts to create a larger conversation, build a bigger story, that the experience slightly falls flat. It feels a bit too brief, a bit too underdeveloped for the massive scale and impact that the rest of the experience leaves on you. You feel that there is potentially some missed opportunity for the production to talk about the human,
psychological impact of virtualised travel.
In an age where anyone can walk down any street in any city on Google Maps from the comfort of their own home, why bother flying halfway across the road to walk there with
your own two feet?
How will we process when a simulation become so real that we can no longer tell the
difference between what is real and what is not?
What happens to borders, national identity and freedom to travel if we can travel the world whilst remaining in our home country?
RawTransport(TM) fails to touch on these ideas in its story – focusing instead on a more fun, slightly confusing, sci-fi narrative without much substance – and it feels like a missed opportunity.
[location: train home]
[/see:] a group of drunk students. streetlights streaking past the window.
[/smell:] alcohol. body odour. plastic.
[/feel:] chilliness. hard metal under the fabric of the seat.
[/hear:] clattering of wheels. screeches. sputters of sparks when the train turns a corner.
[/taste:] another breath mint.
RawTransportTM is an impressive experience and undeniably one you haven’t stopped
thinking about since you left. While brief, it gets you thinking. It impresses itself on your
It feels like a prototype. Like it’s in beta. Like there is still work to be done to make it that little bit better.
But an immense amount of talent is in it. It’s brilliant. It’s clever. And it’s great fun, the
evolution of a classic fairground attraction: you want to stay on and do it all over again.
[/deactivate sensory simulation database]
RawTransportTM runs through 23 February.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.